All I want for Christmas is Herman Charles B


All I want for Christmas is Herman Charles B

HERMAN LATEGAN on the Afrikaans authors he wants to read over the festive season — and those he would have liked to date.


UNFORTUNATELY, I have lost my appetite for Afrikaans fiction. The pool of writers is, at times, simply too small, venomous and parochial. Too many novels are churned out according to a recipe and the market is obsessed with easy-to-read books.

“Please, let's not challenge ourselves," some readers will cry. We are happy to read about a rugby player and his wife's new bundle of joy. We want light and enjoyable reads. Another book about a barbecue, or a rugby star, or a novel with a nice beginning, middle and lovely ending."

“Oh, one of those books that I just couldn't put down," sighs Mrs Reverend So and So about Ella Koekemoer's fifth Christian novel, Pas de deux met Jesus, which this time is set in Hebron.

Not to mention the mothball-scented reading circles; you have to drive there at your own expense, people sit and entertain in fancy houses, and they've bought only one book that they share among themselves.

Just don't curse or fart, or they'll never buy anything from you again. For all my trouble, I once received only a bottle of wine, worth R80.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

So, it's not only the literary establishment that has become so mainstream; readers are seeking candyfloss. Yet, as usual, I am full of contradictions. I have already purchased Joan Hambidge's Stasies, and it is on my bedside table.

By the way, reading Joan's blog is a highlight for me. It's like attending a master class. Spending time with her is also a pleasure because she is really self-effacing. She is (as we all surely are) not everyone's cup of tea, but I like her strong opinions.

Also on my bedside table is Adriaan Basson and Qaanitah Hunter's Who Will Rule South Africa? I attended their talk at the Waterfront. They obviously put in hard work and research. Both write insightful political columns. The book reveals previously unpublished material outlining Cyril Ramaphosa's inability to address the ANC's decline.

I want to read Tom Dreyer's poetry collection Nou in Infrarooi. Some of the poems he occasionally posted on Facebook were raw, hit hard, a sucker punch. His words are like thorn trees; grasp them and you bleed.

He really shouldn't have lived in Stellenbosch or in this era; I see him with the Beats in dark bars in the old Greenwich Village in New York when it was still full of gritty artists and provocative layabouts.

Pieter Odendaal's second poetry collection, ontaard (I despise the term “long-awaited"), is also on my list. This guy, like Dianne Du Toit Albertze, has an edge. A hand that first tickles then suddenly slaps.

I look forward to reading more fiction that goes beyond my white experiences, from the perspective of farmworkers, residents of Bokmakierie, Hangberg, Ocean View, Langa, contemporary Hillbrow and Soweto. It's time to diversify.

To date an Afrikaans writer

I'll have to turn the clock back. It would be a tough choice between Eugène Marais and Herman Charles Bosman. The latter published in English but there is an unmistakable Afrikaans register in all his work. I think I'll leave Eugène, because before I know it we'll both inject morphine and lie in a stupor among the ants. Besides, I also suffer from depression, and if we start discussing dark topics we'll walk into the veld together and turn to dust.

Herman, my namesake, sounds like a better option. He was married, but we'll just go out for an evening and have some conversation. We can talk about his writing methods and so on, but it sounds too boring; it's better to read a writer's books than to ask banal questions. The books provide the answers.

No, let's get to the point. I'm burning to know what happened that evening at his mother and stepfather's house when he shot his stepbrother with a hunting rifle. What made him so angry? Who had to call the police? What went through his mind? Instead of helping the man, he walked into the kitchen. Was he foul-tempered or was he a drinker?

You must be seriously damaged to shoot and kill someone in cold blood. When he appeared in court, he had painted his toenails red. Let's face it, Bosman was a wild card. Maybe that's what makes him so fascinating. It seems he didn't quite fit into the mainstream. Would I like him or would I find him arrogant and dangerous?

The journalist Sean Christie asked in an article: “Was Herman Charles Bosman saintly or devilish?" Both, I would say, because look what Christie writes further: “Herman Charles Bosman, author of the gently humorous, much-loved Oom Schalk Lourens stories, spent four years in jail for the murder of his stepbrother. He also started the literary magazine the Touleier, which ‘libelled everyone from the prime minister down'. At various stages in his colourful life he is also said to have faked his own death and performed an abortion on his third wife, Helena Stegman."

Not kosher

I would like to interrogate him about all these things because something wasn't entirely kosher. Why did he choose to write in English about Afrikaner people, using, as mentioned, the latter's register? Did he, like me, have a complex relationship with the language and its people? Yet, he depicts them with tenderness.

I suspect by this time he would have left the table, knocked over a chair, kicked it and been thrown out of the restaurant. Bosman, like many writers, did not earn much. Then he started conning people. To make money, he sent letters informing people that if they wanted to hear something good, they should send money to the aforementioned address to cover initial expenses. Of course, it came to nothing. He was ahead of his time; today these kind of shenanigans happen online daily.

Even as a student he was disruptive; he scorned and defied his teachers. After his father's death, Bosman told a friend  he had “almost felt something" about his death, but not much. Perhaps the answer lies there. What happened between those two? Father and son?

Christie also writes: “When South African photographer David Goldblatt visits the Marico on the trail of Bosman years later, he finds that, ‘not only had Bosman used real place names in his fiction but, in blissful disregard of the conventions, the real names of people too'."

In response to his fellow students' attempts to save his life (when he was accused of murder), Bosman tells a friend his energy would be better used getting him a job as the shooting instructor at Jeppe high school. Gallows humour. Dark. Photos of him show a man with a handsome face but eyes that gleam coldly, like a predator lurking behind a bush. They sparkle like fireflies.

He also caused trouble among the Christians. In A Nun's Passion, he writes about a celibate nun driven to masturbation to alleviate the intensity of her worship for Christ. For this, he became the first South African writer to be convicted of blasphemy. He left for England. There, he and his wife, Ella, continually moved to avoid paying rent. They disappeared from their lodgings at night. Money was so scarce he asked his wife to inform his mother of his death, saying she was stranded without a penny. Could his mother send money for the funeral? His mother did so but decided to go to England, even though she had been diagnosed with cancer. She found him alive and well.

Furthermore, when he lived in South Africa, he had a fondness for weeds. They grew wild in his garden, and flowers were uprooted.

If it doesn't make him angry, I would like to ask him about his death on a Sunday morning, October 14, 1951. He was in the bathroom and allegedly had a heart attack. Some of his friends, however, speculated that he died of a hangover or alcohol poisoning since he threw a wild party on the Friday night. The glasses were still clinking until that Sunday. He was only 46. Wait, the main course has arrived. I'm waiting for answers. Cheers!

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.