cover image The Alphabet of Birds

The Alphabet of Birds

SJ Naudé, trans. from the Afrikaans by the author. And Other Stories (www.andother-, $15.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-908276-44-5

South African expats confront dislocation and illness in this soulful, well-written debut story collection by Naudé. Several stories center on characters returning to South Africa to care for sick family members. In “A Master from Germany,” the unnamed gay narrator flees a love affair in Europe—in the course of which he may have contracted HIV—to tend to his cancer-ridden mother back home. In “War, Blossoms” an expat living in London returns to the Highveld to nurse a parent with the unsolicited help of a Japanese friend with whom he shared a spiritual, and possibly erotic, experience while traveling in Asia. Throughout the collection, Naudé shows off considerable erudition in such subjects as language pathology, African music, and architecture. At times, his keen eye for detail offers great effect, as when, in Berlin at dawn, “the rising sun splashes against glass cliffs.” Other times, his detours into academese—“Loose” reads in places like a dissertation on dance—lead to stalled narratives. Yet, whether examining the corrupt health-care system of South Africa or the “borderless world’s financial elite” in places such as London and Dubai, Naudé remains a breathtaking, tender writer. Agent: Rebecca Carter, Janklow & Nesbitt. (Jan.)