Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Theme of Sexuality and Rape in The Goat Herder

The underlying theme of sexuality and rape in The Goat Herder is in some parts vivid and detailed while in other parts subtle and secretive. It is yet another topic which illuminates the distinction of cultures.

I have attempted to make the love-making scenes between Nathi and Ruth respectful as well as tender. It is interesting to see the difference in how Nathi, a Zulu and Ruth, Jewish, from a well-to-do family, view themselves in the context of their sexuality. The reader should be able sense Nathi’s shyness and uneasiness with Ruth’s direct and open approach. His Zulu upbringing and traditions have taught him that sexual abstinence prior to marriage is vital where the risk of AIDS threatens to decimate whole populations. Similarly, the Zulus recognize and appreciate the physical and emotional need of growing children and, therefore, teach and condone non-penetrative sex. Once released, Nathi’s latent passion erupts in full force. Here is an excerpt from the novel to illustrate:

“Nathi continued carving but listened to every word of his sister’s story. It made him
think of how he ‘did it’ when he was with a girl. It was mostly kissing, touching, fondling, rubbing each other’s bodies against one another and having intercourse between the girl’s thighs. Dumisani told him about the latter technique. A very pleasurable alternative to the real thing as long as the girl kept her thighs tightly pressed together.”

South Africa’s Medical Research Council (MRC), in the BBC’s World Today Programme,
said there is a higher prevalence of rape in South Africa than in other countries. It said practices such as gang rape were common because they were considered to be a form of male bonding. The above-mentioned story Nathi was listening to so intently was about a girl from one of the neighbouring villages, whose uncle, known to be infected with HIV, had raped her.
Shame and embarrassment made her keep it a secret. The girl’s father heard of the rape because the villagers were talking about it. They were saying that the girl had seduced her uncle because she had been so desperate for a man.

The reader is also dealt two examples of homosexuality in the novel. The subject, taboo in Zulu culture, is still affected by cultural prejudices. There is the vividly described scene of the young Nathi being raped by two men in a forest and there is the character of Jacob, Nathi’s friend, who the reader learns has feelings for Nathi.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dualism in The Goat Herder

A recurring theme in The Goat Herder, manifesting itself on both sides of the cultural divide, is the breaking away from the older generation, the loosening of traditional and idealistic shackles to embrace fresh, new, modern dreams to which every generation aspires.

Literature is full of these examples, especially Jewish literature which has an abundance of material on the subject. In my Master’s thesis, in fact, I wrote about the quest for a new identity as portrayed in the works of Ehrenburg and Babel. This is probably the reason, albeit without intention, that I have continued this in The Goat Herder; the generation gap between the old East European ‘shtetl’ Jew and the younger, vibrant, trendy generation who wants and needs to release the grip of antequated ideologies and prejudaces.

Nathi, the Zulu herd boy, is torn between his love and respect for his culture, family traditions, rituals and beliefs on the one hand, and his intense desire to explore new and exciting horizons, on the other. While he feels it is his duty to preserve, at least, some of his Zulu traditions, he is pulled inevitably to the reality of modern city life where there is no poverty and hardship as he knows it.

Ruth, too, as her father before her, experiences this duality and conflict. As a consequence of the rejection of the traditional view of things, her Jewish identity, the relationship of the Jew to the non-Jew, in this case a Zulu, and the very nature of Jewish religion are all matters that require new formulations. The Jewish people have always had to lead a dual existence: their own and that of the country where they have lived, which for them became a new motherland, a ‘stepmother’ land.

Ruth’s father Zecharia, also goes through this struggle between fathers and sons. He can no longer reconcile himself with the ‘ghetto’ mentality. His father does not let go of his traditions and customs and Zecharia identifies with the ‘real’, ‘normal’ world.

The Goat Herder illuminates the conflict of Zulu tribal consciousness (in Nathi’s case) and Jewish identity (in Ruth’s case), the conflict of two worlds, physical and spiritual, moral and cultural.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Photo: Book with Ostrich egg

A friend asked me what the meaning was of this photograph which appears on my website. The image is of an ostrich egg resting on top of a book. I took the photograph myself as I contemplated the The Goat Herder's safely guided journey to publication.
I guess it can be interpreted in a number of ways. I leave the interpretation in the eye of the beholder :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Through the Streets of the Indian Quarter

One of my proof-readers who critiqued The Goat Herder was fascinated by the fact that there was such a large Indian population in South Africa; a wonderful cue for me to write this post about an amazing piece of what started off as a mainly Gujarati Indian community right in the middle of Durban, now the largest Indian community outside India.

The golden domed minarets of the Juma Masjid Mosque reflect the sun’s rays and tower above the bustling commercial and business centre around Grey Street. The muezzin’s quavering call to prayer filters through the covered arcade and joins the aromas of smouldering tandoori ovens and chicken tikka marsalas. No, you’re not in the Paharganj Market in New Dehli. This is Durban, South Africa.

When Nathi leaves his umuzi, his homestead on the slopes of the Nkandla Forest, and arrives in Durban, he meets Jacob who takes him on a walking tour of the district. They weave through the throngs in the Madressa Arcade off Grey Street. In an eatery where a friend of Jacob’s works, Nathi samples 'bunnychow' for the first time. An idea born of the city’s racist regulations when blacks were not allowed to be served in Indian restaurants, this half a loaf of hollowed-out bread filled with delicious curried mince was the perfect take-away. Then they follow the pungent incense and exotic spice fragrances to colourful Victoria Market, also home to Zulu herbalists and muti traders.

Before catching a taxi to the northern suburbs, Jacob has one last place to show his new friend. Nathi runs after him as he clambers up the winding stairs to the roof of the mosque. A bridge extends from the neighbouring girls' school between the two buildings. The flat roof, which is used for prayer during festivals is used as a playground during school days as the school is not equipped with one. The view over the city, the smells rising from the streets below and the sun setting behind a ribbon of smog stays with Nathi forever.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bridging the gap between black and white, Jew and Zulu

In my search for similar themes in literature to the ones in my novel The Goat Herder, I came across recently The Evidence of Love (1960) a short story by South African born novelist Dan Jacobson.

The Evidence of Love tells the story of a black man and a white woman who fall in love and attempt to defy South African law and custom by living together. The novel treats the theme of interracial love in a relaxed and naturalistic way and also highlights aspects of the individual struggle for freedom and the achievement of self-identity.In another short story a year before (1959), although less similar in theme to The Goat Herder, The Zulu and the Zeide tells the story about a lively Jewish grandfather (Zeide in Yiddish) whose family employs a Zulu as a carer. Their relationship bridges the gulf between black and white, the generation gap, Africa and Eastern Europe. The story juxtaposes the small-mindedness of a wealthy Jewish businessman with the unaffected humanity of the black servant he employs to care for his ailing father. Local prejudices, however, still persist.

This information was taken from the Free Encyclopedia If you’re interested in a more detailed biography of Dan Jacobson go to:

Dan Jacobson Biography - Dan Jacobson comments:

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Swazi, not a Zulu

Recently, I was astonished (in a positive sense) to learn that a fellow student at university in the mid-eighties had converted to Judaism. Not only did he convert to Judaism but he became a rabbi and now gives lectures internationally on topics such as Kabbalah and Sabbath amongst others.

You see, Rabbi Natan Gamedze is a Swazi prince. He was born a Prince of the Kingdom of Swaziland and studied Modern Language and Translation at WITS University in Johannesburg.

Why am I bringing this up in my blog? Well, the main character in my novel The Goat Herder, Nathi, (note the similarity in name – is there such a thing as coincidence?) is a Zulu who leaves his tribal home and goes to look for work in the city. He falls in love with his Jewish employer’s daughter Ruth and, much later in the story, faces the dilemma whether or not to convert to Judaism so that he can be accepted by Ruth’s family. To know what happens you’ll have to read the book :) which, G-dwilling, will be published in the not too distance future.
If you’re interested to read more about this fascinating man, Rabbi Natan Gamedze, go to

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Secret is Knowledge

One of the most profound journeys when writing a novel is the sensation of being in a place which has never felt your feet. This is what draws so much intensity and passion for me in the creative process. Especially if it’s a place your heart desires to experience, yearns to beat in rhythm with and is attracted to for some mysterious reason.

I’m talking about big, embracing arms of culture and religion, rituals, beliefs, laws, street food, markets, aromas and emotions; the elements which give you true insight into another’s life and lifstyle. You don’t need to have been in that place to be able write about it but, of course, it helps.

I do think it’s important to visit that place and stay there for a while, at least once during the writing of the book. However, again, not necessary. Take Miranda Dickinson’s Coffee at Kowalski’s, a light-hearted, witty rom-com set in New York, a city she’s never been to. HarperCollins’ Avon imprint offered her a contract last year in a three-book deal.

The secret, well not really a secret, is firstly, research. Tireless, thorough and lengthy research (Internet, libraries, travel documentaries, films, music etc.) Secondly, speak to as many people as you can who either come from that place or have been there and know it inside out. Deepen your knowledge as far as it can go. There’s another secret – knowledge.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Literary Showcase

Here's a newsflash before the weekend:
There is a new website for writers wanting exposure. Literary Showcase is a new website that enables writers to upload samples of their work so they can be viewed by publishers and production companies registered with the site. There are currently 25 publishers and production companies registered, with new ones registering everyday. To have a look, visit the site at
Please note that registration is not free. It costs around €30 but it's well worth it.
Go take a look!

Book in a Nutshell Competition

Just to say I have entered the 'Book in a Nutshell' competition being held by The Knight Literary Agency. A writer has to send in three 'compelling' sentences from his/her unpublished manuscript. The first twenty winners get editorial feedback and possible offer of representation. Hold thumbs!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My official website

Hi everyone,
My website is now up and running! You can click on the link above or on this link here
On the site you can now read the first chapter of The Goat Herder.