The Book Club Blog

Books for any occasion and other life stuff

New Book Alert! {Seriously, if you’re a reader, you don’t want to miss this one}

With thanks to the author for a review copy of this book. It was the perfect antidote to the lockdown blues.

I am always a little nervous when asked to review a book. Not for any other reason than I might not enjoy it. This was definitely not the case with A Healthy Learning Environment by WJ Smit.

This book is one of the best books I have read this year, on par with A Poor Season for Whales by Michiel Heyns which I read during Level 5 Lockdown.

Self published Debut Novel, A Healthy Learning Environment is set in the drought-stricken South Africa of 2016, where an elite Model C school struggles to regain balance after the loss of a great leader.

While battling to come to terms with their grief, teachers and learners alike find themselves finally facing their demons as they wait for rain and salvation.

Reviewing is always such a fine balance of just the right amount of information. This book deserves to be read, not only reviewed, so I hope I can mange to entice you to do so without giving too much away.

A dry, witty voice, the author has a superb way with words that engage the reader from the very first line. The first chapter manages to show the characters to their full potential allowing us a glimpse into their mindsets, and also their world (which if you are South African, your world).  But, not only do we have an engaging cast of characters – portrayed so very well you can’t help but nod along in understanding, there is a diverse range of them too. From the Perfect Principle to the Gay White Couple raising an Adopted Black Daughter.

I really enjoyed how each person battled with their grief, and coming to terms with their loss of their leader. The revelations they have as they traverse this landscape were so heartfelt you could  feel it seeping through the pages. I especially loved how the beginning and the end of the novel are intertwined.

The setting was a great description of an elite Model C school in the 2000’s highlighting how it is a hub of hope for some of the teachers, yet a minefield for some of the learners. Spotlighting mental health, societal norms, and fear while loving your country of origin. While the book is a work of fiction, reference is made to several real events, both national and global, that took place in the year 2016.

This book was such an accurate description of South Africa today that it had me both giggling out loud and tearing up. If you are looking for a {homegrown} diverse book to read, this hits all the right notes. (Saying that, it is such a well written book that anyone not native to our country would automatically get a sense of the contradictions of living here.)

This book is diverse, interesting, homegrown, and extremely enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

Orders can be placed on the authors website, either a physical copy or an E-Book. Uppercase Bookstore in Menlyn are also selling physical copies.

If you’re keen for more information, please click on the following links:

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{Homegrown} The SA Author Campaign IV

Raashida Khan is a self published author.
Her books include:
 Mirror Cracked– this won the Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Award two years ago (is also LBQT so its perfect for Pride Month AND breaks down barriers with writing about mental health in the Muslim community),
Happy Birthday, Raashi (a poetry anthology) and her latest
Your Voice, My Strength. None of which I have yet read but after reading the synopsis of Mirror Cracked it is now officially on my TBR list.
Raashida contacted me after having read and enjoyed the {HOMEGROWN} author interview series with the hopes of contributing her own Q & A. As we all know I am a huge fan of promoting and sharing SA writers, I agreed to showcase a new to me author.
Diversity is key in reading, where would be the fun in just reading the same old same old. Climb out of those comfort zones, and try something new, there are also some recommendations in the ‘authors that inspire me’ question. (I also adore the cover of her latest book!}
So without further ado, please enjoy the latest in our {homegrown} SA author Q & A.
– Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able to sit and write at any time?
It depends on what I am writing. If it’s a novel, there is a loose routine, but as long as I set a target for a day, then that helps. If it’s poetry or a blog, there is no real routine as it when i’m moved/inspired enough to write something.
– What book/s are you currently reading?
‘Made in Chatsworth’ by Kiru Naidoo and ‘Time and Time Again’ by Ben Elton. My reading is a bit slower as it Ramadaan this month, so I have less time.
– Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?
Always a tough one to answer as we have such a wealth of local talent. Rayda Jacobs, Alan Paton, Achmat Dangor, Zakes Mda, Fred Khumalo, and many others. I love SA writers and try and support them where I can.
– Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?
Yes, I have been saying I would write since I was a child but only started seriously about five years ago.
– Which has been your favourite book to write so far?
My first novel, ‘Mirror Cracked’. Writing this book made me recognise my passion – I put my heart and soul into it. The book really helped me to identify and engage with themes that are close to my heart. The characters were real to me and I loved them all. It also taught me so much about writing and myself and cemented my love for writing.
– What were your favourite books as a child?
I enjoyed the mystery books of Enid Blyton and school-based stories.
– To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?
In all honesty, I’ve not hated any book. Every book has some merit and teaches its readers something. Generally, if a book does not grab me in the first 50-100 pages, I move on. There are too many books to read and too little time to persevere with a book that is not working for me. This is rare though, especially now that I write too. I understand and appreciate what goes into writing a book so don’t give up on them very quickly.
If there is any book that disappointed me, it was ‘The Ministry of Happiness’ by Arudhati Roy. She is one of my favourite authors and her first book, ‘The God of Small Things’ was one of the books that made me want to write.  I’ve also enjoyed her socio-political writings and admire her as an activist. Unfortunately, for me, this book was all over the place. There is much to be said about simplicity in writing. I felt this novel was trying to do too much – it had an interesting plot and characters but the social commentary detracted from it rather than enhancing it.
– Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?
I’m not sure about that. I would like to think that we are treated equally. If you are referring to traditional publishing, I can’t comment. As a self-published author, I think an author gets as much recognition/airtime as he/she works for. It’s all up to the individual.
– If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?
If writing is your passion, write in spite of the challenges. Stay positive. Read widely, participate in local author/reading groups (on social media and in person), attend book festivals and support other local authors wherever you can.
– If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?
Zukiswa Wanner – she has an amazing energy and is committed to supporting local and African.
Keletso Mopai – she has an incredible way with words. She weaves universal themes into her proudly local stories with artful finesse, yet her writing is so accessible.
Kopano Matlwa – her stories and style of writing are unique yet believable. I’ve seen her at a book festival, where I was stuck by her beauty, grace and humility.
I think I could learn much from any of these inspiring authors.
– What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learn’t while being in lockdown, and was it successful?
I cut my husband’s hair. Twice! Yes, I think it turned out well otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed near him with a scissors a second time.
– While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our new normal sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?
I try to be grateful and appreciate what I have been given as I know I am blessed. The lockdown really helped me to take nothing for granted and to remember to pay more than lip service to giving thanks. So many others have suffered incredible hardships and have had to make sacrifices in this trying time.
We have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places during this time, what is yours?
I miss my walks in the parks – I love being out in nature, the freedom to just go out when I want and visiting/meeting friends and family, especially. The connections we have with each other still continue digitally, but it’s not the same as being in the same room with someone and hugging him or her.
– What is one pet hate in your current situation with who you live with? Be it a partner, child or animal?
Honestly, no one. I’m quite lucky, I guess. We are a family of 6 (no pets) and mostly get along. It helps that the house is fairly big and we each have our own space as well as a garden, so it’s easier for us.
I love how often Enid Blyton shows up on this Q&A, I think most of us have a soft spot for these children’s books. Thank you so much Raashida for getting in touch, its been great to read your answers, and I look forward to reading your books.
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