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

THE 2021 BOOKER PRIZE LONGLIST ANNOUNCEMENT

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, real and fictional

My mother’s garments 
never seemed to grow old.
Slack suits and twin sets
from the seventies,
woven from some synthetic
substance that did not wear
or tear, unlike the natural fibre
of her skin. My aged mother’s
delicate covering bled
every time she stumbled.
Worn out; worn to shreds.

— "Going home", Disturbance, Dawn Garisch


It has just gone six a.m. I walk my son down the road to the corner where we wait for his lift. The sun is rising, the light streaking the horizon gold. I comment on the morning buzz, the company we keep, power-walkers, the dog walkers, workers and school kids heading for the train. ‘The day carries on.’
Without you, the day must carry on.
Al says, ‘Of course, but let me remind you that you’re wearing pyjamas.’

— Death and the After Parties, Joanne Hichens


They fled with nothing, never stopping. Not even when his mother tripped, his sister, tied to her back, knocking her head so hard that a bump rose immediately. She had been crying, now she screamed. Yet still they ran, amid their own blood and spittle, as the black cloud of the burning valley hunted them, chasing them forward, forward, towards the blue sky.

— An Island, Karen Jennings


Now Shirley, you know, became a mother quite young – sixteen or something like that. She ran away from home with newborn Jason; his naeltjie at his belly hadn’t even fallen off yet. Came to Cape Town where she thought no one would find her. The Northern Cape was far.

— "Homeful", Let It Fall Where It Will, Lester Walbrugh


Lexi shrugged off her coat. She heard the rustle of beads as her mother, Sandra, came through the hippie curtain from the kitchen at the end of the long hallway. Like the town was bisected by a highway, so was their house by the passage.
‘I thought you would be asleep by now.’ Lexi feigned surprise.
‘I waited up. You’re my responsibility now.’ Her mother was in a kaftan, her hair long and loose. She looked like she’d escaped from the Mamas and the Papas.
‘Yay.’ The joys of being dumped and fleeced by her husband never ceased.

— A Fractured Land, Melissa A. Volker


I still remember my mother’s words when we got in the car to go to mass. ‘It’s Christmas, Mary, not a funeral.’ But I’ve always worn black. I would have said she was tempting providence, if that wasn’t exactly the sort of thing she would say. I should have, though. When we got home, a bunch of armed response cars were blocking the gates to the complex. The police were there. Men in bulletproof vests. Guns.

— A Hibiscus Coast, Nick Mulgrew


Not a word was exchanged between us as my mother and I made our way home. She must have seen how disappointed I was for, as soon as we walked into the house, she turned to me, demanding – ‘Where is the form?’
Puzzled, I looked at her. What use was that form now? What would she do with it? Only my father could sign it; and he had flatly refused, hadn’t he?
‘Give me the form, Thembi.’
‘Why, Mama?’
‘Letha, bo!’
My mother forged Baba’s signature.
I applied for a passport, astounded by my mother’s actions. She had shown me a side of her I didn’t suspect existed.

— Theatre Road, Sindiwe Magona


The lagoon has
forgotten us
like a son
sometimes
forgets his father

but never his mother

— "Port is red and starboard green", For Everything That Is Pointless and Perfect, Stephen Symons


But tell me this: where is his irrepressible, eternal soul? Because that is what interests me more. Where is his spirit, free of the gritty, grey residue of his body, which I have felt with my own hands? Because I, with the five senses of a woman, and undeniable sixth one 16 of a mother, cannot fathom the dimension within which my child now exists.

— "Lost", Earth to Mom, Sue Brown

SALE: 4 for R550, including delivery

Order any four of the ten published Karavan Press books and pay ONLY R550, including delivery.

For book details, click here: KARAVAN PRESS BOOKS

To order, please send your list of the four titles and your delivery address to karavanpress@outlook.com, and we will send you an invoice for an EFT.

Delivery options:

Cape Town: next working day after payment reflects in our account, to your door within 20km of Rondebosch Common.

Rest of South Africa: within a few working days after payment reflects in our account, to your nearest Postnet office.

Contact us for other delivery arrangements, if required.

OFFER VALID UNTIL 14 MAY!

LitNet: Joanne Hichens interviews Karen Jennings about AN ISLAND

I didn’t set out to write a fable – or, rather, I did not think about it explicitly in those terms – yet I believe that the description is an apt one, to a certain extent. I wanted to explore certain complexities relating to the history of the African continent and how that history continues to influence the lives of individuals to this day. Because that history is such a multifaceted one that is shared, to varying degrees, by numerous African countries, I wanted to reduce the narrative to a small location, with few characters, and by those means amplify the key concerns.

One of those concerns is examining the life of an ordinary individual. There is nothing special about Samuel. He is not heroic, intelligent, skilled or wealthy. He is very much an everyman – an everyman who has experienced aspects of colonisation, of being made to flee his home, of poverty, of the fight for independence, of torture and imprisonment under a dictatorship, and of trying to find his place in all of that chaos and horror. What does a man like Samuel have? How does he feel? What will he do in order to protect his home?

AN ISLAND by KAREN JENNINGS: AN INTERVIEW

Blog Tour: AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings

Karavan Press co-published An Island by Karen Jennings with the UK publisher, Holland House Books.

When the UK edition of An Island appeared last year in November, this stunning novel and its author went on a blog tour, organised by Emma Welton of Damppebbles Blog Tours. Here are some highlights:

In my novel, An Island, I have attempted to engage with the dark history that many African nations share, the ramifications of which are felt to this day. Because of the complexity of the historical influences, I chose to tell the story in as simple a way as possible, using as location a small fictional island off the coast of Africa, never revealing to which country that island belongs. I dislike the pervasive western notion that Africa is a single country, an idea that reduces the vibrant cultures, societies, languages and traditions to all being one and the same. The intent behind An Island was never to take part in that reductionism. Rather, I hoped that through focusing the action of the novel on two key characters and their interactions within the confines of this small space that it would allow significant relevant historical influences to be seen as irrevocable and undeniable aspects in the life of the protagonist, but without the risk of specific events, historical figures and political policies overshadowing his thoughts, emotions and behaviour. By those means I wished to examine what the influence of such a history might be on an individual – most specifically, what might drive a seemingly ordinary person to violence?

KAREN JENNINGS – DAMPPEBBLES BLOG TOURS

Karen has created an atmospheric tale, one that has humanity sewn through its core. The setting of an island backdrop breathes the chill of loneliness through the chapters and the way it feels personal and raw will have the reader understanding, possibly connecting with Samuel on levels we weren’t sure we would. An Island is a truly special read, that you’ll find creeps up on you chapter by chapter. You’ll get lost in the wave of Karen’s words, in Samuel’s loss, life and grief entranced by the violence our protagonist has experienced, as well as the emotional knitting that holds the novel’s core together.

THE READING CLOSET

… a well developed story, great setting and a fantastic main character.

DONNA’S BOOK BLOG

An important and astoundingly good novel … The idea for An Island came to Karen during an afternoon nap at a writers’ residency she was attending in Denmark in 2015. In her sleep, she saw an old man, fiercely defending his island against interlopers. At the time, there was a vast amount in the news about the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which extended to what became known as Europe’s Refugee Crisis. There was a great global outcry against xenophobic responses and calls for humanitarian aid for Syria’s refugees. At the same time, there was almost nothing about refugees from Africa – not about what drove them to flee their nations, or what their dreadful experiences were, nor about their deaths or their futures. Karen chose to explore the relationship between refugee and landowner, but within an African setting, where xenophobia is as rife as in Europe, though it often manifests itself in different ways despite largely being born of colonialism. By reducing the action of the narrative to two characters, Karen felt that a complex issue could be rendered in simple ways that allowed for a focus on individual experiences.

MY BOOKISH BLOGSPOT

STEFANIE: Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
KAREN: Last year I read the autobiography of Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth century writer. I found him fascinating because of his work ethic. He had very strict rules for himself, such as getting up early every morning and writing something like 2000 words before going about his day. He would write 250 words per 15 minutes and made sure to keep a strict log of his progress. Travelling was no excuse for idleness – no matter where he was in the world, he would write, whether it was on a boat or a train, in a carriage, in the jungle, in the desert. He was “merciless”, that’s how he described his attitude to writing. If, for example, he finished writing a book, but he still had ten minutes of allocated writing time or he hadn’t fulfilled his wordcount, he would just pick up a fresh page and start a new book. Parts of this sound so mad to me, while other parts of it make sense, to a certain extent.
Steinbeck, on the other hand, seems to have been quite the opposite. In his diaries that he kept while writing Grapes of Wrath, he records often taking days off to hang out with friends or to enjoy the nice weather. Then he’d frenziedly work to the point of exhaustion for a few days before lounging around again.
I would like to be able to sit with the two of them and have a conversation about writing practice. I imagine it would be quite fascinating, but likely a disaster. I don’t see the two of them getting on very well!

THE MAGIC OF WOR(L)DS

ELS: 1. Which character would you like to be in this book?

KAREN: I wouldn’t like to be any of them! They are all in desperate situations or live very bleak existences. I can’t say that I envy any of them.

B FOR BOOKREVIEW

The themes of this book are serious but covered sensitively. I have really enjoyed reading this one.

I have loved Sam as a main character, he is unique …

LITTLE MISS BOOK LOVER 87

The vivid descriptions of life on the island capture the rhythm of Samuel’s days; he tends his vegetable patch, feeds the chickens and prepares his stew and while there is comforting familiarity to his life, there is also an underlying loneliness which perhaps explains why he shelters a man he knows nothing about. His resentment and fear of the outsider is entirely understandable yet also devastatingly poignant. These are two men who don’t understand each other but both are outsiders, shaped then shunned by much of a violent society because of who they are or where they come from. An Island is a powerful exploration of humanity’s complex relationship with each other, meaning the universal need to connect with others is constantly threatened by suspicion and frequently misplaced anger. Karen Jennings’ book is an affecting read – this empathetic, evocative novel is a thought-provoking look at themes which affect us all, regardless of where we come from. 

HAIR PAST A FRECKLE

The SA edition of An Island is published by Karavan Press: An Island by Karen Jennings.

Karavan Press title: An Island by Karen Jennings

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

ISBN: 978-0-6399942-5-3

Publication date: December 2020

Cover artworks by Deborah Minné

About the author:

KAREN JENNINGS was born in Cape Town in 1982. She is the author of three novels, Finding Soutbek, Travels with My Father and Upturned Earth; a short story collection, Away from the Dead; and a poetry volume, Space Inhabited by Echoes.

Her stories have been recognised with the Africa Region prize in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and the English section of the Maskew Miller Longman short story competition.

She holds Master’s degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town, and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Currently living in Brazil, Karen completed post-doctoral research at the Federal University of Goiás on the historical relationship between science and literature, with a focus on eusocial insects. 

Karen works with the mentorship programmes run by Writivism and Short Story Day Africa, both of which promote writing in Africa. Her interests lie in colonialism, historically and in the lasting impact that it has had on the continent of Africa and beyond, particularly the quiet lives of everyday people.

Karavan Press is co-publishing An Island with UK publisher, Holland House Books.

Author photograph by Carol Coelho.

UK publisher Holland House Books and Karavan Press to co-publish AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings

We are delighted to announce that Karen Jennings and her UK publisher, Holland House Books, have approached Karavan Press for the co-publication of Karen’s latest novel, An Island. We have been in discussion since Karen’s last visit in Cape Town and have now signed a publishing agreement. Karavan Press will publish the local edition of this exquisite novel.

An Island by Karen Jennings

Description

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.

Karen Jennings with Karina M. Szczurek

Karen Jennings was born in Cape Town in 1982. She holds Master’s degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town, and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Karen’s stories and poetry have been published in journals across the globe. In 2010, her short story From Dark won the Africa Region prize in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Mia and the Shark won the English section of the Maskew Miller Longman short story competition in 2009 and is now studied in schools. Finding Soutbek was her first novel. Her short story collection Away from the Dead was published in 2014, and her Travels with My Father – An Autobiographical Novel was published in 2016. Karen’s first full poetry collection Space Inhabited by Echoes was published to great acclaim in 2018. Last year, she published Upturned Earth, a novel set in the copper mining district Namaqualand, Cape Colony, during the 1880s.

Currently living in Brazil, last year Karen completed post-doctoral research at the Federal University of Goiás on the historical relationship between science and literature, with a focus on eusocial insects.

Karen works with the mentorship programmes run by Writivism and Short Story Day Africa, both of which promote writing in Africa. Her interests lie in colonialism, historically and in the lasting impact that it has had on the continent of Africa and beyond. She is particularly concerned with the quiet lives of the everyday people who have been mostly forgotten by the politicians, big businesses and the rest of the world. In this way, she strives to give the ordinary a voice that can be heard and appreciated.