One of the thoughts that may come to mind when you see a collection of African emigrants’ stories is that it will be a lament about life abroad.
When you read the stories of, among others, Marita van der Vyver, Zirk van den Berg, Eben Venter, Valda Jansen, Annelize van Rooyen, Elisia Strydom, André-Pierre du Plessis and Naomi Meyer in the short story collection, Far in the worldit is not an intense remorse that you experience as a reader, but rather a feeling of gloom.
The volume was compiled by Frederik de Jager, on behalf of NB-Uitgewers.
Frederik was a language teacher, editor and publisher of a large number of award-winning authors. In between, he was an article writer, reviewer and producer of documentary TV programs. He is also involved in writing schools, in South Africa and on the island of Lesbos, Greece, where he lives.
His debut short story collection, Man on a bicycle going somewhere (Protea Boeke, 2021), was awarded the Eugène Marais Prize for prose in 2022 and the UJ Debut Prize.
The invitation he extended to writers was simple: Write a story about the experience of being a foreigner in a foreign land.
“To my delight, not one story was a tirade of reasons why people left South Africa, and even less a lament about how hard it is abroad.
“Nevertheless, a certain melancholic tone of loss and longing underlies almost the entire volume,” Frederik tells Rhewal.
Readers take a world trip, so to speak, thanks to stories from different countries, which include England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Iceland.
The narratives vary between mere fiction and personal experiences. These are stories about loss of the familiar, the longing for home, and adaptations in the distant foreign – often interwoven with a good shot of humor.
Frederik himself has been living abroad for a few years after moving to Greece to run a small tourism business. He did not break all ties with South Africa and has since returned regularly.
“It was very difficult to get away from South Africa. We did not leave South Africa with a grudge. We also did not shake off our country’s dust from our feet, but came back regularly and for long periods to present our creative workshops here as well,” he says.
When asked if his experience as an emigrant differs from that of other people, Frederik says that he does think so.
“Judging by entries on the social media. One of the constant adjustments in our case is doing business with Greeks. It is a disorder on several levels.
“Another obvious one is the language, which is difficult to learn, but worth the effort over and over again. It is a beautiful language, with immense depth. Greeks are known for their generosity, but in a small town you are forever an incomer.”
When Frederik takes a look at the final product, he is really in his element Far in the world.
“I set high requirements, and commissioned stories came in that I turned down. On some others, who did make it to the bundle, we also worked quite a lot to let them come to their senses.”
The book costs R320 (price subject to change). Click here to Far in the world available from Graffiti Books.
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