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Victor Dlamini

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Eben Venter on the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast

Eben Venter

TrenchermanHorrelpootFear is ever-present amongst South Africans. The gated communities, elaborate self-protection systems and security seminars reflect both the reality of the violence in our society and the paranoia that accompanies it. Eben Venter explores this fear in his novel, Trencherman – a translation from the Afrikaans original, Horrelpoot, by Luke Stubbs, and it was fascinating to hear his views on the idea of “dystopia” and its association with his book, bred into it, as it were, by fearfulness – the author’s, the readers’.

In his writings, Venter has made a name for himself as one who pushes the boundaries and challenges conventional wisdom, as widely recognised in his earlier novel, My Beautiful Death. That book turns conventional understanding of death on its head. The protagonist Konstant Wasserman leaves South Africa to go and die in Australia, and he urges his friends to see his death as a beautiful experience and not to mourn the loss of his life. Its portrayal of death is a unique literary event, combining as it does Buddhist views on death, with a vivid narrative style that seeks to convey the experience of death in a way that does not rely on the cliches of ugliness, fear and loss. Trencherman marks a return, and gives us an extreme fictional account of the country’s total collapse and degeneration to truly apocalyptic levels.

At the Franschhoek Literary Festival, I was privileged to sit down and chat to Venter a number of times. First on a formal panel about “Writing and Love”. Later, in the “Green Room” that provides a sanctuary to writers during the festival. On the latter occasion, we took up Trencherman and My Beautiful Death (which was translated from Ek stamel ek sterwe), and I was able to probe his views on stretching the bounds of fictional license, his style of writing and the meaning of his work.

Eben Venter

My Beautiful DeathEk stamel ek sterweThe festival took place against the backdrop of the successful holding of South Africa’s 4th democratic elections, and it was inevitable that political questions would float in the Franschhoek air. I was intrigued by the parallels between some of Venter’s characters and that of many South Africans who have sought refuge in Australia and elsewhere, and I wondered how many are like the protagonist in Trencherman, who ostensibly embarks on a trip in search of his nephew, but in reality is returning to South Africa to face up to his own fears.

Venter writes at times in the sparse style of JM Coetzee and he acknowledges Coetzee’s influence on his writing. When Venter left South Africa for Australia he found work as a chef in there, and he still moves between South Africa and Australia. His books have been translated into German, English and Dutch and he has received the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in Literature writer-in-residence award. In 2005 he taught Creative Writing at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland and at the School for Neerlandistiek at the Palacky University in the Czech Republic. Join me on the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to this remarkable South African writer.

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