I cannot praise the book Durban in a Word highly enough. It is hands down the best collection of short stories and essays I have ever (ever!) read…and they are all about one quite amazing city and its residents – Durban (eThekwini), South Africa. The editor and each the writers have successfully woven into words Durban’s rich and storied tapestry. In doing so, they have done their hometown very, very proud.
The anthology consists of 30 separate stories that cover a gamut of subjects ranging from art, to architecture, to crime, to local history, to childhood recollections, to race, to geography and topography, to daily life, and to characters real and imagined whom call Durban home. Above all, this book is a love story – depicting the enduring love that each and every writer has for the city of their birth or adoption. Each story is inspirational in its own special way as the author’s weave into words the essence of Durban and how it pervades one’s innermost core.
As an urban planner, dreamer, and traveler, South Africa has long been high on my list of “must see” locations on this beautiful planet. After reading Durban in a Word, eThekwini (Zulu for lagoon) is now perched atop of my list of South African cities ahead of the traditional favorite of Cape Town. Needless to say, almost any trip to South Africa would include both, along with Johannesburg and Pretoria. But, if for some reason I was limited to just one city by fate or circumstance, Durban would now be my choice. One cannot help but fall in love with Durban while reading this book, regardless whether it’s the aura of the bright lights or the dark underbelly that’s being exposed.
It would be impossible to cite all the gems contained in Durban in a Word. I know I will never forget “Accordion Man,” a brief story that literally warms and wrenches your heart at the same time. And, I personally can’t wait to someday wander through the “Arcades of Durban” and take in each of their unique sensory treats. Here are just a few quotes from the book that help showcase why it is such a treat to read:
“Like many cities, the real life, the real allure is found off the tourist circuit, in the less obtrusive corners of the eye. You have to direct your gaze away from the obvious, the imitation global shopping malls and multimillion-rand ‘gated communities’ – electrified internment camps for the rich. You have to get off the main routes, adjust your expectations, open your senses. Then the city opens up to show its true face. And it’s so African, so Indian, so everything in between.”
“He told me how during the day he’d let her relish her reputation as the city where the fun never sets, but come night he’d devote himself to loving her shadows…”
“An arcade is never an end to itself.”
“I could not help pondering again about how place is an inescapable denominator in South African writing.”
“Even then, part of Durban’s allure was its fragrance of ferment – a deep warm note below the coconut oil and curry powder, the sea salt, spun sugar and exhaust fumes.”
And lastly as a terrific summation of this book:
“…every Durban native has a story worth telling – a story worth listening to and a story that ultimately entwines itself in the very fabric of our larger local life.”
Durban in a Word was first published back in 2008, but I must say it is easily the best book I have read during 2013. It is one of those literary treasures that will remain in your heart and mind long after the pages (digital or pulp) have been perused. Bravo and my sincerest kudos to all involved in the book’s preparation and publication!