Sunday, August 30, 2009

Writers’ Guild Hosts Distinguished Writer

- André Jaquet -

Writing about an accomplished, award-winning author is not easy. After all, he is supposed to be the wordsmith - not me! But try I must because this was a special evening indeed. In August, Eben Venter had our Writers’ Guild audience engrossed when he read extracts from several of his books, spoke about his about-to-be-released novel and then answered questions.

At first glance Eben struck me as a quiet, courteous person with a shy smile. He seemed transformed when he started speaking and especially when he read extracts from three of his books, Foxtrot van die Vleiseters, Ek Stamel Ek Sterwe and Trencherman. The passages he chose from each were distinct and different but all illustrated Eben’s remarkable ability to use images and language to evoke feeling and understanding and atmosphere.

Eben’s simple, unpretentious delivery managed to convey insights that startled by their clarity. From the rapt expression on the faces of those around me I could see that we were not just hearing his words with understanding but that we were feeling the emotions in the messages that he was conveying.

Eben also offered an enticing glimpse of his new novel, Santa Gamka, which goes on sale in October. He divulged something of its plot and characters, revealing that since living in Prince Albert he had compiled a personal dictionary of colloquial words and phrases used by local people.
The circumstances that led this child from an ordinary Karoo family to write are best told in his own words:

“I was born in 1954 in Burgersdorp, Eastern Cape and grew up on a large sheep farm in the district. My father told us stories in front of the fire: ‘On a cold, dark night Hansie and Rosie set out on the back of a little wooden cart. Instead of horses the cart was drawn by two swift hares. Right through the night the hares ran as fast as they could while yellow eyes glared at the poor children.’

I can recall all the koppies and vleis and still know the lay of the land like the palm of my hand. Its landscape and its seasons, my family, the relationships between them and the black people have informed most of my story-telling.

When I read the opening line of Etienne Leroux’s Seven Days at the Silbersteins: ‘The Van Eedens felt it was about time for their only son to marry someone who, in other respects, was worthy of their standing’, I wished that I could write like that one day.” (

Eben has certainly achieved that goal and more. Three of his novels have been awarded the WA Hofmeyer Prize for best Afrikaans novel of the year. He has been published in Germany and The Netherlands and taught creative writing in Poland and the Czech Republic. Two years ago Eben was writer-in-residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies.

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