DIS­TILLED, MA­TURED MARICO

Her­man Charles Bos­man, one of SA’S most loved and evoca­tive writers, has been given an up­date. Archie Hen­der­son dis­cov­ered how

Financial Mail - - LIFE -

For the past four years or so, pub­lisher Trevor Em­slie has in­cluded Her­man Charles Bos­man sto­ries in his weekly pod­cast and e-mail, the Cape Rebel.

“It has been noth­ing short of a de­light to rediscover the ge­nius of this SA writer,” says Em­slie in the in­tro­duc­tion to Marico Moon and the Afrikaans ver­sion, Vol­maan oor die Marico. They are col­lec­tions of Bos­man ex­tracts, pub­lished by the House of Em­slie.

But Bos­man coun­try is dif­fi­cult ter­rain, much like the Marico bushveld, where the sto­ries are set, or the char­ac­ter him­self, who died at age 46 in 1951 from what was sus­pected to have been either a heart at­tack or a hang­over.

Can Bos­man still be en­joyed in our racially po­larised society?

Some of his lan­guage is of­fen­sive, but schol­ars have usu­ally come to his de­fence. The renowned late for­eign cor­re­spon­dent Richard West said that in mod­ern SA, more than in Bri­tain or the US, there is a “prud­ery about race re­la­tions com­pa­ra­ble to the prud­ery over sex­ual mat­ters in the Vic­to­rian age”.

Rhi­nas Nt­shavheni Malinda of the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg says the use of the K-word in Bos­man’s Mafek­ing Road sto­ries was to drive home the point that blacks were be­ing de­nied the right to ex­ist as fel­low hu­man be­ings. Those sto­ries, it needs to be kept in mind, were writ­ten in the 1930s.

“Bos­man is the first ma­jor SA writer in English to grap­ple with the thorny is­sue of racism in a sus­tained way. He re­garded it as his moral duty as a writer to make the reader aware of the race re­la­tions is­sue,” wrote Malinda in a dis­ser­ta­tion pub­lished in 2000.

Em­slie be­lieves that Bos­man’s use of of­fen­sive terms is

“in­vari­ably an in­stru­ment for sub­tle irony that may well, in th­ese po­lit­i­cally cor­rect times, be lost on some who are un­ac­quainted with his work”.

He says that “with mi­nor ad­just­ments and omis­sions,

Bos­man can be pre­served in ways that still faith­fully ren­der his lit­er­ary art with­out giv­ing un­nec­es­sary of­fence”.

Em­slie has made those ad­just­ments and omis­sions, he says, “out of love for Bos­man’s writ­ing, not from any sense of ‘im­prov­ing’ the text” or vi­o­lat­ing the in­tegrity of the work.

Em­slie is un­apolo­getic about the “ad­just­ments and omis­sions”. “I think that by leav­ing out the K-word we may just have given Bos­man a new lease on life,” he says in an in­ter­view. “Oth­er­wise he would be side­lined for sure.” Hence the ded­i­ca­tion in Marico Moon to Oom Schalk Lourens, one of Bos­man’s great char­ac­ters from the Marico, “who is alive and well and liv­ing in the pages that fol­low”.

The ex­tracts in Marico Moon are taken from Mafek­ing Road. In that novel the sto­ries are based on Bos­man’s six-month “ex­ile” in the bushveld, where the Transvaal ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment had sent him and where its of­fi­cials be­lieved he could do the least dam­age.

But, ac­cord­ing to fel­low trou­ble­maker Bernard Sachs, who was a school friend at Jeppe Boys’ High and a fel­low stu­dent in ed­u­ca­tion at Wits Univer­sity, “those who can see in Her­man’s sto­ries only the Bo­ers of the Marico have missed their es­sen­tial qual­ity. Tech­nique and imag­i­na­tion are per­fectly blended in th­ese sto­ries.”

A love let­ter

Bos­man sto­ries have at­tracted the largest num­ber of hits on the Cape Rebel site and e-mails. The most pop­u­lar was The Love Po­tion, which had more than 1,200. Its pop­u­lar­ity, how­ever, may be more than mere Bos­man, ad­mits Em­slie. “One can but won­der why, though it is a lovely story, well told by our voice.”

The con­cept of Cape Rebel be­gan when Em­slie, to­gether with two of his chil­dren, David and Clare, iden­ti­fied sto­ries that might help them to sell the books they had pub­lished.

“A lot of the sto­ries, which we hoped might grip read­ers’ imag­i­na­tions, could be gleaned from the books we had al­ready pub­lished. This has not been a great success as a book-sell­ing tech­nique (though we do sell some), but we have found the ex­er­cise to be such fun that we have con­tin­ued re­gard­less. Thus it is done as its own re­ward, not for money,” says Em­slie.

The sto­ries, in English and Afrikaans, which were first e-mailed to sub­scribers, be­came a pod­cast when a friend sug­gested that life could be made eas­ier for read­ers. At the be­gin­ning of the year, it dawned on Em­slie that the site had pro­duced more than 50 Bos­man sto­ries “and that it might be an idea to pub­lish th­ese in a more catholic col­lec­tion than any­thing [by him] pub­lished hith­erto”.

He says: “Also, deal­ing with the Bos­man sto­ries for Cape Rebel brought home to me afresh just how bril­liant he truly was. Marico Moon con­tains 60 sto­ries and we have used 65 for Cape Rebel. I still hold out the hope of do­ing a col­lec­tion of other sto­ries, when time per­mits.”

Bos­man, it has long been said, wrote Afrikaans in English. Now he has Afrikaans in Afrikaans, thanks to Em­slie’s for­mer Afrikaans teacher at St Stithi­ans Col­lege, Hen­drik Jansen, who the pub­lisher be­lieves has brought the “spirit and in­spi­ra­tion” of the writer to the trans­la­tions and contributed to SA lit­er­a­ture.

An ex­tract from Marico Re­vis­ited in A Cask of Jerepigo

It was to this part of the coun­try, the north­ern sec­tion of the Marico bushveld, where the Transvaal ends and the Bechua­na­land Pro­tec­torate be­gins, that I re­turned for a brief visit af­ter an ab­sence of many years. And I found, what I should have known all along, of course, that it was the present that was haunted, and that the past was not full of ghosts. The phan­toms are what you carry around with you, in your head, like you carry dreams un­der your arm.

And when you re­visit old scenes it is your­self, as you were in the past, that you en­counter, and if you are in love with your­self — as ev­ery­one should be in love with him­self, since it is only in that way, as Christ pointed out, that a man can love his neigh­bour — then there is a sweet sad­ness in a meet­ing of this de­scrip­tion. There is the gen­tle melan­choly of the twi­light, dark eyes in faces up­turned in a trance­like pal­lor. And fra­grances. And thoughts like soft rain fall­ing on old tomb­stones.

When I first went to the Marico was in that sea­son when the moe­pels were nearly ripen­ing [a ref­er­ence to red milk­wood fruit]. And when I re­turned, years later, it was to find that the moe­pels in the Marico were be­gin­ning to ripen again.

Tech­nique and imag­i­na­tion are per­fectly blended in th­ese sto­ries

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