A few weeks ago I attended the South African Book Fair to dip my toe into the SA publishing industry and see what I found. The fair brought together authors, publishers and book-lovers from all over the country to meet and talk shop about the state of South African literature. This took the form of various panels, debates and discussions around a wide variety of topics - some of which I went to be a part of. The most entertaining talk I went to was themed around the genres of horror, science fiction and fantasy and it contained a panel of some of South Africa's most talented writers in those areas, namely: Lauren Beukes, Melissa Delport and the author I want to talk about today: Fred Strydom.
Now, all three of these authors impressed me with their enthusiasm and dedication to a genre of fiction that is only slowing starting to grow in this country and as I listened to them speak, it dawned on me that as a self-diagnosed erudite, I had given very little support to South African authors. So I went and bought one of each of their books and got stuck in.
Fred Strydom's masterpiece is where I started and that sure sets an incredibly high bar!
The Raft is the meticulously woven story of an odyssey across a broken world - with one burning question for the protagonist. Who am I?
To borrow from the book blurb:
On Day Zero, humankind collectively lost its memory. The collapse of civilisation was as instantaneous as it was inevitable. For a man name Kayle Jenner, confined by a regime to a commune on a remote beach, all that remains is the vague and haunting vision of a son. That, and a wooden raft.
In this world without memory, Strydom's story looks at who we are without our memories and what makes us the unique little snowflake we think we are. It is a thought experiment like no other, because it requires you to disregard thought altogether.
Without memories to build off - there are no reference points.
There is no knowledge.
There is no 'me'.
In a feat of storytelling that I haven't come across in a long time - this book truly deserves to be read and re-read by everyone. It is sad that because it is a South African author, there is a stigma that comes part and parcel - but I implore you to look past that and give this book a chance. It is simply incredible.
I cannot wait to get stuck into Melissa and Lauren's books next... Support South African Fiction!