Home Away: 24 Hours, 24 Cities, 24 Writers, Edited By Louis Greenberg
A brainwavez.org Literary Review

South Africa By: Mandy J Watson on 12 May 2010
Category: Books > Reviews
Tags: horror, LGBTI, Team Scripticon
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It's an impressive undertaking: coordinate 24 writers to write 24 stories, each inspired by a different hour of the day and a different city of the world, and use these tales to "reflect on the nature of home", with no restriction on genre, fact, or fiction. The result? Whatever you choose to make of it.

Home Away, edited by Louis GreenbergI found that the best way to enjoy Home Away is slowly, a tale or two at a time. Though this requires incredible self restraint to achieve, as the stories are so compelling and what you really want to do is sit in a sunny spot on a warm summer evening, or in front of an inviting fireplace on a chilly winter one, and read the entire book in one intense sweep.

Pausing, however, gave me time to savour the characters, the situations, and the cities. It also gave me time to reflect - not only on the authors, some of whom I know well, and some of whom I've yet to meet, but also, more importantly, on the stories and my reaction to them. Some were incredibly, unexpectedly poignant while others where fun-filled, exhilarating rides through a time and a place I may never get to experience. With such a variety, I never knew what was coming next and this was rather exciting because I had few expectations and an open mind.

While the book's theme remains consistent and ties everything together the way in which it is expressed varies wildly, from horror, science fiction, noir, and crime, to comedy, whimsy, and nostalgia. Some stories are invented, others, such as Rustum Kozain's Royaumont Hash-Up (Paris/Royaumont, 10pm) in which he recounts a literal hash up in an ancient abbey with a group of modern-day minstrels and Sarah Britten's Redundant (Sydney, 3am), in which we are privy to the late-night insomniac mental processing of a woman coming to grips with her sense of alienation in Sydney, her new home, are writer reminiscences of actual events or experiences; still others are something a little in between, such as Richard de Nooy's Stowaway (between Liberec and Rokytnice nad Jizerou, Czech Republic/Amsterdam, 2am), in which we learn the fates of each piece of luggage in a seven-piece matching set, but told from an unexpected perspective. Many stories are quite obviously fiction (there are so far, to my knowledge, no South African mecha pilots in Tokyo (Lauren Beukes' Unathi Battles The Killer Hairballs (Tokyo, 11am) or zombies in Botswana (Sarah Lotz' Maun Of The Dead (Maun, 8am)) but others drift so adroitly along that line between fact and fiction that it's impossible to tell, such as Fiona Snyckers' The Tea Break (Oxford, 10am), in which we are reminded, wonderfully, of just how serious, studious - and alien - the South African work ethic is, and Karina Magdalena Szczurek's Our Brass Bed (Braunau Am Inn/Geretsdorf/Salzburg, Austria, 7pm), which is an intense exploration of identity in a context that is almost completely foreign to me, yet I connected with it easily.

It was the poignant stories that resonated most with me, and this caught me by surprise and really led to long periods of introspection and contemplation on the nature of home and identity. With the vast changes that have happened in South Africa in the past 15 years we are all very sensitive to these issues and many of us have also been left to question the very nature of what our home and identity is. Many of us are lost. We don't know who we are. We don't know who others are expecting us to be. I've certainly felt this - white, English-speaking South Africans don't have a culture and a heritage that is as easily identifiable as someone who is white and speaks Afrikaans, or is Coloured, or Xhosa, or Zulu, or Ndebele, or .... It's hard to know who you are - sometimes you just know who you aren't. In this context of culture and identity, I experienced an ephiphany towards the end of the book. While I won't go into detail, I realised that certain subtleties within the various sentiments that are expressed collectively in Home Away represent aspects of my culture. While they may resonate with people from other parts of the world there is something so inherently "us" about them that I realised that that, with which I do identify, is my culture.

This book, designed to use the voices of those who were born or raised, or who have at some point been resident, in South Africa to tell the story of what home means in a South African context, is an outstanding work. Not only are many genres, in quite a rare occurrance, allowed to sit happily side by side within its pages, inviting you to reconsider some of those that you usually would avoid, but it's a fantastic introduction to a collection of contemporary Africa-focussed writers, some of whom you may never have heard of and the works of others of whom you may have previously sidestepped in the book store because they fall outside of your genre preferences. It's also a great collection to purchase in preparation for a certain soccer tournament taking place this year that I believe I cannot name; I already fear having my web site destroyed for unauthorised abstruse reference to a trademark. What I'm saying is: if you're going to be here for that thing, it's a great introduction to what "here" is and it will also make a great gift for those you left behind. If you're not coming for that thing, it's a way to become engaged in the spirit of the place while you're in your armchair avoiding the ad-nauseum repeat of the authorised advertisers' advertisements during televised broadcasts of that thing you're not coming for.

I know I haven't mentioned all the writers in this review, rather focussing on the work as a whole, but this by no means indicates a dissatisfaction with any of the stories. Though some resonated with me much more intensely than others, and that almost feels as though it should be kept a private matter betwen myself and the book, all the stories contributed something quite special to the overall picture Home Away paints of identity. There was something quite enjoyable about encountering each new story with no idea of what to expect. I don't wish to discuss any of the stories in any particular detail for I fear I will destroy the magic inherent in each one - rather, I'd prefer readers to discover them for themselves. (The comments section of this review, however, is open to discussions and spoilers.)

Home Away speaks to the heart and soul of the South African spirit but its themes are universal and its tales touch (almost) all the continents. It is a magnificent compilation and is highly recommended.

A proof copy of Home Away was provided by Zebra Press for review purposes. The book is available at local retailers in South Africa and should be available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk soon. Refer to the "Shop Online" box below for more details. All author royalties are being donated to two worthy projects, the Adonis Musati Project in the Western Cape and Kids Haven in Gauteng.

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Rating: 9/10

Key Facts (Retail Copy)
Title: Home Away: 24 Hours, 24 Cities, 24 Writers
Editor: Louis Greenberg
Authors: Various (see "In The Collection", below)
ISBN/EAN: 9781770220720
Publisher: Zebra Press, an imprint of Random House Struik
Edition: First
Year: 2010 (April 2010)
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 224
Dimensions: 150x230x18mm
Genre/Keywords: Africa, crime, drama, fiction, identity, horror, humour, noir, non fiction, science fiction, South Africa, travel
Cover Design: Monique Oberholzer
Foreward: Vikas Swarup

In The Collection
Sarah Britten:
Victoria Burrows:
Moky Makura:
Karina Magdalena Szczurek:
Makhosazana Xaba:

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