A Hibiscus Coast

Book Review:

A Hibiscus Coast

by Nick Mulgrew

(Karavan Press)

In these turbulent South African times of violence and disquiet, many conversations have turned to emigration. In that context I found A Hibiscus Coast to be an honest, compelling and soothing look at family, migration and dispossession.

The author takes us to Durban North, 1997, where a suburban murder rocks a community, and drives one of its members to act upon a long held emigration strategy.

As in real life, nothing about emigration is simple. The characters are layered with different life events, losses and biases, and so we begin to see the messy, difficult, courageous and conflicted process unfold.

The main character, nineteen year old Mary, has to leave Durban ahead of her parents and is forced to make a new life for herself, within a South African ex-pat community in New Zealand.

Parallel to Mary’s story, we meet…

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The latest Karavan Press title – Conjectures: Living With Questions – in the hands of its author James Leatt

Always a happy moment: the handover of author’s copies to The Author! Yesterday, James Leatt received the first copies of his Conjectures: Living With Questions and signed a copy for the Karavan Press archive.

When I put up two of the above photographs on Instagram yesterday, the post attracted two very moving comments:

“There’s an author who once slept holding … a copy of his first book. He finished a matchbox looking at the book at night since there was no electricity in his rural area. Congratulations James.”

— Sipho Banda

“I love that you publish outsider authors with exceptional talent that other publishers are afraid of. You’re like the originals, publishing words not social media followers. Literature is better for Karavan Press.”

— Rachel Zadok


Rachel is the founder of Short Story Day Africa. She and her work – as writer, editor, publisher and curator of Short Story Day Africa – continue to be great inspirations for Karavan Press.

And, like no other, Sipho’s comment captures the pride and joy of the moment of holding your book in your hands for the very first time, especially when the journey up to that point had not been easy. But no matter what the path, the magic of the arrival is extraordinary.

Thank you, Rachel and Sipho! And thank you, James, for travelling with Karavan Press!

Conjectures: Living With Questions tells the story of James’s search for how to live a meaningful life at a time when the socio-historical realities all around forced him to question the mere possibility. The book is now available from all good bookstores (please order, if not in stock), online from Loot, and as ebook.

James Leatt was nine when the Nationalist Party came to power, and eleven when he saw a documentary of the Allied forces liberating Nazi death camps. For most of his life the shadows of apartheid and the Holocaust have dogged his beliefs about faith, the meaning of life and the moral challenges humankind faces.

Conjectures is a philosophical reflection on his life and times as he grapples with the realities of parish work in black communities, teaching ethics in a business school under apartheid, managing a university in the dying days of the Nationalist regime, and eventually working in higher education in post-apartheid South Africa.

Weaving strands of his personal life with the questions of theodicy and modernity as well as drawing upon the Western philosophical tradition and the wisdom of East Asian traditions such as Taoism and Buddhism, he comes to terms with a disenchanted reality which has no need for supernatural or magical thought and practice.

He has learned to live with questions. If you no longer believe in God and a sacred text, what are your sources of meaning? What kind of moral GPS allows you to find your way? Is what might be called a secular spirituality even possible?

Conjectures traces the author’s search for a secular way of being that is meaningful, mindful and reverent.

ISBN: 978-0-620935-87-6

Karen Jennings on Afternoon Drive with John Maytham

Listen to Karen Jennings’s moving interview with CapeTalk’s John Maytham:

Karen Jennings on Afternoon Drive with John Maytham

‘Earlier this week, we heard that two South Africans, both of them University of Cape Town graduates, have been long-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize – Karen Jennings and Damon Galgut. Well today, we speak to Karen, who made it onto the prestigious list for her book, “An Island”, which follows the tale of an old lighthouse keeper who finds the unconscious body of a refugee on his beach.’

AN ISLAND by KAREN JENNINGS longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize!

Karavan Press is thrilled and deeply honoured to announce that An Island by Karen Jennings has been longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. Co-published with UK publisher, Holland House Books, An Island tells the story of Samuel, a lighthouse keeper.

Samuel has lived alone for a long time; one morning he finds the sea has brought someone to offer companionship and to threaten his solitude …

A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper. Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer under colonisers, then fight for independence, only to fall under the rule of a cruel dictator; and he recalls his own part in its history. In this new man’s presence he begins to consider, as he did in his youth, what is meant by land and to whom it should belong. To what lengths will a person go in order to ensure that what is theirs will not be taken from them?

A novel about guilt and fear, friendship and rejection; about the meaning of home.

“The far southern extremities of our planet produce remarkable, distilled, and ravaged tales. An Island has to be counted as among the most remarkable of these. Karen Jennings offers a chilling, immersive portrait of Samuel, a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the African continent. He is a man at the edge of history, until the arrival of a refugee stranger returns him to everything he most needs to forget. A gripping, terrifying and unforgettable story.”  — Elleke Boehmer


‘A Circle of Women’ by Tracey Randle

Tracey Randle kindly shared with us this beautiful poem she was challenged to write. See which Karavan Press title is woven into the fabric of her ode to bookclubs, women and reading:

A circle of women

A circle of women facing each other might look like:
An embroidered cloth found in a forgotten museum store
Their names pulled in and out in cotton
As fingers and minds met each week
To sew something of themselves into the
collective cloth  

A circle of women facing each other might look like:
towers of books piled up like small mountains
the names of writers and poets pulled in and out
As fingers quietly turned pages
To read something of themselves in the
collective stories

A circle of women facing each other might look like:
all the hopes and dreams and fears they carry
of when breath becomes air
sewn into a cloth or told through another book’s story
As fingers and minds meet
Taking notes on grief
Daring greatly to speak something of their louding voices into the 
collective space

A circle of women facing each other might look like:
A starless sea of stories filled with 
empty champagne flutes and a stack of china plates smeared with crumbs
washing up on a hibiscus coast
A garden light flashing on and off in the night
As the oak leaves and nighttime birds catch their laughter
Recognising that on earth we are briefly gorgeous

A circle of women facing each other might look like:
All the embroidered cloths our grandmothers have ever made
All the towers of books women have discussed together
while thinking up a hurricane
A line of tears caught in thread
A seam of hope woven in a tapestry
A string of words that prevents the great alone 
We are so much more than girl, women, other
Where the pull of the stars shows us 
The wonder of acceptance

To read more about Tracey click here: Cape Herstorian

Thank you, Tracey, for reading and sharing ‘A circle of women’ with us.

A Hibiscus Coast by Nick Mulgrew wrapped in a tablecloth crocheted by my (Karina’s) great-grandmother.

Dawn Garisch on the genesis of her novel, BREAKING MILK, shortlisted for the 2021 Sunday Times/CNA Fiction Award

2021 Sunday Times/CNA Fiction Award shortlist

In this novel, I explore aspects of separation and connection. Several mothers I know are estranged from their adult children, and many of us are disconnected from nature, intuition and creativity. I track the nuanced task of knowing when to intervene and when to withhold action in the lives of our own or other women’s children.

However, there are situations where we need to cut – initiation, divorce, surgery. Breaking Milk uses the metaphor of milk and cheese-making to ground these preoccupations during one day in the life of Kate, a geneticist who became a farmer when ethics in her lab were compromised. I job-shadowed a friend to learn about this ancient craft that employs patience and invisible micro-organisms to preserve milk.

I am interested in the idea “you can be right, or you can have relationships”; also how our intelligence has had some disastrous consequences for the natural world on which we depend.

Embedded in these concerns is the role of women in society – what it takes to say no, and how a woman finds her feet after divorce. The books that have informed my inquiry are Disgrace by JM Coetzee, and Accident: A Day’s News by Christa Wolf.

Sunday Times Books

Continue reading:

Extract from Breaking Milk by Dawn Garisch

Kate Sidley reviews Breaking Milk by Dawn Garisch for the Sunday Times: “A small world of deep metaphorical meaning”

Read about the organic cheese farm that inspired the setting for Dawn Garisch’s Breaking Milk: FYNBOSHOEK

Follow the cheese farm on Instagram: FYNBOSHOEK CHEESE FARM

Forthcoming from Karavan Press: CONJECTURES by JAMES LEATT

Conjectures, when the book still went by a different working title, was one of the first manuscripts to arrive on Karavan Press’s doorstep. “Lovely to be entrusted with an author’s intellectual and creative work. A great honour and responsibility. Looking forward to the read…” I commented about it on Instagram at the time.

The manuscript and the author came highly recommended by a writer who has been running creative writing classes for a long time and who knew that this book was special and needed a home with an independent publisher. They thought we would be a good fit. And so it is.

Reading James’s reflections about his life and work, I felt as if someone had written about my own intellectual and spiritual journey, but with the deeply grounded theoretical and practical insights that I had lacked at the time when I was travelling this path. He writes with care, integrity and joy, and an unmistakable gratitude for the treasures he had discovered along the way – a journey marked by many difficult questions and challenges, but also rewards and achievements.

Beautifully written, Conjectures will appeal to readers who have questions of their own and are willing to open their hearts and minds to them, no matter how complex and arduous the attempt may be. Some of us might arrive at a different destination, but the journey itself is quite a thrill.

The book’s cover and content have been designed by Stephen Symons. We are in the final stages of production and I can’t wait to share this intellectual and creative literary gem with our Readers.