Monday, July 12, 2010

Home Away: "At home in the world"

What does it mean to be a South African traveller in today’s globalised world? A new book asks this question in 24 stories and 24 times zones by 24 South African writers, weaving together a magical and moving journey of travel and time. Home Away is an anthology that will make you question, treasure and reflect on your place in the world

 “You wonder what it means to live the life of a legal alien, with the dust of one country in your nostrils and the dreams of another in your head. You wonder whether the freedom to cross borders is tempered by the loneliness of exile, or whether the anxiety of driving on the wrong side of the road is inevitably offset by the thrill of driving on the right side of opportunity,” writes author Vikas Swarup as he contemplates the journey that Home Away will take you on in his foreword to the book.

A rollercoaster ride awaits you as you cross six continents and twenty-four time zones in an exploration of what it means to be a South African expat in today’s world. Editor Louis Greenberg has weaved together a unique concept- a compilation of 24 short stories by 24 South African writers in 24 hours and 24 cities. The tales make up one global day, following from each other in chronological order. The result is a dizzying dance of voices, places and spaces that reflect the experience of the South African traveller.

Home, Away
Greenberg gave this group of established South African authors and new writers a task that is more nuanced than other travel writing: the stories were to reflect not only the experience of travel, but also what it means to call South Africa home. Thus, each story is a multi-dimension moment that encapsulates being both home and away.

As the description of the book says, “being South African isn’t as black and white as it used to be. People from all over the world make this country their home, while South Africans have more geographical freedom than ever before.” From a distance, home can sometimes been seen through smoke and mirrors, and yet we need to continually look into that mirror to reflect on where we are, where we come from and where we want to go. Home Away constantly asks these questions, despite the stories being so varied.

At the same time, the book is a collection of snapshots recording the intensity and thrill of travel. A story set in steamy Havana describes this: “Aboriginal people believe that friends leave footprints, but enemies leave your life without a trace. Imagine if the same rule applied to travelling... to forget the details of places with painful memories, while allowing locations where one experienced transformation and happiness to build a house in the heart and stay with you forever.”

And what of the stories themselves? Compelling, powerful, sexy and strange, they will take you to places in the world and in your head that are equally real and fantastical. The opening act has the author trying to poison a politician in Nairobi at midnight; later, you travel with a set of suitcases; further you are plunged into a zombie-zone in Botswana and in another moment you are contemplating the institution of the British tea break in Oxford.

As you catch your breath between continents and time zones, you pause to reflect on your place in all this. As boundaries and borders blur both in the book and around you, you realize that, as Swarup says, “You are not a world away from home. You are at home in the world.”

This article was originally published on