New Year’s Resolution (1)

Cover of Life after lifeAttempting to win a non-existent prize in a non-existent contest for the most ridiculously early New Year’s Resolution for 2014, I resolved to read 10 books from The Guardian’s List of Best Books of 2013 as selected by a number of well-known writers and critics.

I couldn’t find 10 books I really wanted to read so I am also in line to win the non-existent prize for earliest failure to keep a New Year’s Resolution.

Perhaps I could almost make it by counting the two I have already read.  Life after life by Kate Atkinson chosen by Ian Rankin, and The woman upstairs by Claire Messud, chosen by Lionel Shriver.

Does the list-maker influence the choice? Possibly.  Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald: a life appeared on the lists of John Lanchester, Penelope Lively, Hilary Mantel and Helen Simpson. I’ve read all of these writers and hold them in high esteem. Same with Mark Haddon, but  although he’s a good writer it’s the subject matter of the The Great War, edited by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts, that is both topical and compelling.

Blurbs can help – who could resist “a chilling psychological thriller portraying the disintegration of a relationship down to the deadliest point when murdering your husband suddenly makes perfect sense”. Not me, so I’ve added The silent wife by A. S. A. Harrison. It was on John Lanchester’s list and some say it’s better than Gone girlCover of Visitation Street

I chose Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda off Lionel Shriver’s  list because Ivy Pochoda is such a good name and because it  features a character who is “a Juilliard drop-out and barfly… forced to confront a past riddled with tragic sins of omission.”

I’ve also picked two off William Boyd‘s list: Breakfast with Lucian by Geordie Greig and Breakfast at Sotheby’s by Philip Hook. Not just because they both have breakfast in the title, but because they are about the endlessly fascinating art world.

Richard House’s The Kills has been called a staggering work but it’s 1003 pages long – ‘a novel in four books’. The fact that I’m game for the attempt is what’s truly staggering. The Luminaries will be a walk in the park after this baby.

So, my list of books I will read from The Guardian Best Books of 2013 is as follows:

All safely reserved. First come, first read. I can’t wait to see where they’ll take me and I may even record how I get on.

The best national anthem in the world

Cover of MandelaAll over the world, at this time of mourning for the passing of Nelson Mandela, people will be thirsty for information about this great man. Some will read the many books, maybe take out a DVD or two, or watch tv for documentaries.

But I will listen to music.

I’ll start with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) who spent years in exile because of his political beliefs. Then maybe I’ll indulge in a little resistance music from my CDs – the best came from rebellious young Afrikaans men. Next I’ll lighten up with some Paul Simon gems from Graceland and kick back with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and their wonderful harmonies.

But I will always build up to South Africa’s National Anthem: Nkosi SikeleliAfrika (God Bless Africa). Here is a version of it. Written by a schoolteacher for a church hymn competition which he won in 1897, later  the singing of it became an act of political defiance against Apartheid and finally it was incorporated with Die Stem and sung at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. South Africa has eleven official languages and five of them are represented in this anthem: Xhosa at the start, followed by Zulu, then the completely different sounding Sotho. After that Afrikaans and finally English.

You are certain to hear it in this week of mourning for Mandela. When I hear it I am taken right back to all the occasions when it was sung at the Zulu College at which I lectured. Everyone stands. There is a small silence. Hand on heart, Black Power salute from some of the men. Then the singing begins – in five languages, sometimes in two-part harmony, the softer female voices answered by the powerful bass of the men: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – God bless Africa.

Every nation loves its own national anthem, I know that. But for  me this is the best one in the world. Indulge me just this one week, because for all its poverty, corruption, droughts and AIDS problems, God did bless Africa. He sent us Nelson Mandela.