Category Archives: Books

Lisa Lazarus and husband, Greg Fried - co-authors of the Book of Jacob

A couple’s journey into parenthood

Lisa Lazarus and husband, Greg Fried - co-authors of the Book of Jacob

Cape Town writer Lisa Lazarus doesn’t mince her words when explaining why she wrote The Book of Jacob—her joint memoir of a couple’s journey into parenthood.

”I wrote it because I was cross, in truth I was furious—the book really burst out of me,” she said at the recent launch of the book, which was co-written with her husband, UCT philosophy teacher Greg Fried. ”It was this feeling that sparked the book, like I’d been conned in some way.”

Everyone who has been through the joy and trauma of having a child will relate to Lisa’s sentiment, knowing that, with the exhilaration of the beloved precious bundle comes a great deal of hard work, deep feelings of failure and loss—and many sleepless nights.

Her husband has this to say: ”The Book of Jacob doesn’t look like the other books in the parenting section. The other books are in bright colours, red, orange, green, with cute infants and serene or laughing parents, books pleading to be adored. Our volume, with its haunting, silvery gleam, like a Victorian photo of a séance, mixes strangely with its companions. When we first saw its eerie grey-blue among the gaudy shelves of Exclusive Books, we realised that we’d broken into a new genre: the Gothic parenting memoir.”

He goes on: ”In fact, though, its appearance is entirely appropriate to the material. If you take pleasure in sudden screams in the night, the feeling that something is about to go terribly wrong, long and close confinement within a small space, unexpected denunciations from blood relatives, long brooding followed by spasms of rage, bursts of hysterical laughter, then our parenting memoir is for you.”

It is this kind of humour that pervades The Book of Jacob—a book which had me giggling—and occasionally shedding a tear—from the preface all the way through. With Greg’s often hilarious philosophical musings—reminiscent of the philosophical author Alain de Botton, I would suggest it has a place in the Humour section too.

The book tells the story of a young and very happily married couple who decide to have a baby.

”We had decided that we didn’t NOT want to have a baby,” declares Lisa. ”This is not a good reason, nor a clever one, to have a child.” But, she adds, that was, in fact, the only reason she had.

Her poor track record with kids didn’t help. She had been fired, in her twenties, from a job looking after children because, as the father bluntly put it: ”The kids don’t like you.”

Early on in the book, we are told how Lisa summons her husband to the bedroom where they have ‘baby sex’.

Against their expectations, she falls pregnant immediately and the couple—accustomed to a wonderful life together, are forced to hit the ground running. Despite the antenatal classes and the first aid courses for infants, they realise nothing has prepared them for a baby.

In honest, often hilariously funny or poignantly sad style, this couple provide ‘his’ and ‘her’ versions of their daily toils in raising a baby during that tumultuous first year.

Describing the first year of parenthood, Lisa says: ”It felt like a rickety row boat, lost at sea, heading into the distance … knowing only what I’ve left behind, and with a terrible longing for what that was.”

She describes the real anxiety of not being able to breast-feed properly, and the trauma of having a baby that won’t fall asleep or stop crying.

Greg describes, at one point, the relief of leaving their ‘grimy pad’ to hand baby Jacob over to his parents for his first sleep over.

He writes: ”At home, Lisa and I bumble about with Jacob, two village oafs trying to keep a hot potato in the air. We slump into the couches of my parents’ lounge. At last someone is going to take care of Jacob.”

The arrival of Jacob stripped Greg of views he previously cherished about himself:     ” … a calm person, able to be cool and reasonable under stress. Over months it came to me, as a slow wave of revelation, that under stress I am a lunatic, totally unreasonable and quick to attack everyone nearby and then try to escape. I think, at some level I don’t usually think about, it’s been a blow to my sense of manliness.”

At one point, during one of their few conversations since childbirth, Greg asks anxiously about the baby: ”Do you think he’s advanced?”, to which Lisa replies: ”Not really.”

When Lisa’s friend Shani, the perfect mother, visits, she relates how once she had a child, her whole life made sense. ”It seems to be the point, doesn’t it,” she says, while breast-feeding contentedly.

At that stage, Lisa contemplates tranquillisers.

When the couple takes a short break in Paris, leaving Jacob with Greg’s parents, they find themselves in a restaurant enjoying hot chocolate and French onion soup. But they are talking about Jacob’s education.

Despite some of the hair-raising moments described in the book, Greg and Lisa are doing just fine. There’s even talk of a possible second child.

As Lisa puts it: ”Despite the very long, and very treacherous, journey in our boat we, the three of us—Greg, Jacob and I—eventually bumped up against land. We managed to pull our boat up to shore, get off and take a look at this new country where we found ourselves.

The Book of Jacob”It’s a vast place—this country, which is not really a country, but rather a new state of being, parenthood—and from the small part I’ve seen (because I’m still really exploring the edges of this foreign world) it’s a rich place—mountainous, with great peaks and troughs. There are many dangers but also many joys.”

The Book of Jacob is not only informative for prospective parents, it’s also entertaining the whole way through. Every book club should have a copy.

The Book of Jacob—A journey into parenthood by Lisa Lazarus and Greg Fried.

Publishers Oshun Books.

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

The Last Chinese Chef

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. A Trade paperback from 4th Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

‘A story of food, healing and love’ reads the blurb.

It’s that … and more. Food writer, Maggie goes on a quest to Beijing, China, to discover the truth behind her late husband’s infidelity and subsequent paternity suit. The search coincides with the opportunity to interview rising culinary star, Sam Liang for a magazine.

The story seems like a straight forward piece like the many emotionally unattached stories she’s written before, but she is soon captivated by China and discovers a food steeped in ancient history and philosophy. She cannot help being drawn into Sam’s world—and begins to understand his passion to re-connect with familial culinary roots.

He gives her a sumptuous insight into Chinese cuisine and she begins a gastronomically enchanting journey—one that ultimately sees her healing from the tragedy of her husband’s untimely death and shock discovery of his betrayal.

A great read for the foodies and romantics out there.

Pomegranate Soup

Pomegranate Soup ISBN 9780732284046

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

Three sisters flee Iraq in the midst of political and personal turmoil and settle in a quaint little Irish town called Ballinacroagh.

Reminiscent of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, the sisters open The Babylon Café serving exquisitely created Iranian fare that transcends the bland local offering. Gradually, they win over the jolly Father Ferber Mahoney and a number of his merry followers, all inexplicably drawn to the café’s sublime and exotic aromas.
Not everyone, however, is entranced by their instant success – least of all the town bully, Thomas McGuire, who monopolises local business with his scare tactics. He also harbours a deep desire to take over The Babylon Café for the creation of a tacky disco.
The past also threatens to haunt the sisters and brings an insidious darkness to the fresh start they hope for. Each chapter begins with a recipe and by the end, the reader can almost taste the plump ‘elephant ears’ – pastries dusted in sugar and cinnamon, the heady aroma of abgusht - a rich, clear broth made with lamb, vegetables and lashing of exotic herbs and spices – and of course, the fragrant blend of Pomegranate Soup.
A gastronomical read that left my mouth watering – and my stomach begging me to seek out a little Middle Eastern café tucked away in my own city.
A feast of the senses!

Published by Harper Collins

LK JournoNews

Breath

BreathAustralian author, Tim Winton’s gift of writing with clarity and simplicity immediately sweeps his reader into the story.

In Breath, even the brooding dark cover of boy in dusk surf aptly dictates the darkness that seems to permeate through the entire novel.

Narrated by ‘Pikelet’ – a young surfer, it tells the story of his sometimes tortured life – of the peaks and troughs that come with adolescence.  One of his central characters is his adrenalin addicted friend,  Loonie who seems hell-bent on self-destruction Alongside them in their journey is Sando, a has-been surfer and muse – an untouchable hero of the waves in the young boys’ eyes. He physically and mentally challenges them in his pursuit of the next big wave.

While Winton’s faultless description of the compelling nature of surfing and the vivid detail of waves evokes such feeling one can almost smell the saltiness of the surf, the story is far more than a surfing tale.

It delves into dangerous human deviations, of the torturous addiction of adrenalin played out in the relentless hankering after the ultimate wave. It is also about unfulfilled dreams, wrong choices and disappointment. And it is about making peace with the way life ultimately unfolds.

Tim Winton

Tim Winton

The Red Tent

TheRedTent

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

An imaginative, compelling story set in ancient Mesopotamia, Canaan and Egypt, offers readers a rare insight into life as a biblical woman—in particular, Dinah, only daughter of Jacob.

While the author, Anita Diamant maintains her interpretation is purely fictional (food sounded delectable), she has clearly researched her topic with great detail and there are fascinating and colourful glimpses into the lives of these historical biblical characters such as Rachel and Leah. It brings them to life as women of great strength, character and intelligence.

Dinah narrates her own story, vividly tracing her journey from life as a young girl into adulthood and beyond.

It gives readers insight into all aspects of life in these times—from giving birth, death, honour and the intricately woven relationships that must have existed in the tribes of old. In essence, it gives Dinah a voice.

Says the author: ‘I was drawn to retell the biblical story of Dinah in large part because of her silence. In Genesis 34, Dinah’s experience is described and characterized by the men in her family, who treat her as a rape victim, which in that historical setting meant she was irredeemably ruined and degraded. Because she does not say a word, I found it easy to imagine an alternative telling to the story, in which Dinah is not a passive victim but a young woman who makes choices and acts on her own initiative.’

A captivating read.

Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant