Last week, I told you about the reviews I write for a Dutch literary platform. This week I’m gonna tell you about one of my favourite books from these reviews, The Alphabet of Birds by S.J. Naudé. This book was so good, I was completely blown away by it. I even liked it so much, I used it for a paper on postcolonial literature.
The Alphabet of Birds is a collection of pretty long short stories. The book contains seven stories, located all over the world, but all linking back to South Africa, where Naudé comes from. This focus on all kinds of different places makes the book truly inclusive, also because of the use of very diverse characters: they come from different backgrounds, have different sexualities and different ideas. Naudé has a laid-back style of writing, which makes sure it never becomes voyeuristic, but it’s also still poetic. He’s always very convincing in creating an authentic place for his stories. This resulted in me having a huge book hangover, not just after the book, but after every single story. Now that is some great writing.
Now, I want to write a bit more about how Naudé uses this book for his postcolonial message. Although all his stories feature diverse characters, the main characters are often white, like Naudé himself. He tries to figure out how a white character has to act in a postcolonial society, especially post-apartheid South Africa: how do you check your own privilege? How do you support minorities? How can you make sure your voice doesn’t cancel out those of others? This is especially an important theme in the story of Ondien, a musician with two Zulu women as background vocals in her act. She sees these women as sisters, and wants them to see her as such as well, but almost without knowing she constantly speaks for them. She also wants their music to be multicultural, but as Ondien is the one who makes all the creative decisions it feels more like cultural appropriation.
Naudé proves he’s a great writer by using his stories to educate people on the difficulties of postcolonial society. He doesn’t judge, but he does acknowledge all the struggles that come with it, while simultaneously never forgetting the impact of white privilege. I learned so much from this book, while at the same time I enjoyed the poeticality of his stories and sentences.
The Alphabet of Birds is Naudé’s first book, so for now you can say you’ve read his complete works in just these seven short stories. But let’s hope there’s more to come!