When I met him in person at the South African Literary Awards gala dinner – on the night he’d scoop the 2010 award for first book – Diale Tlholwe looked too dour for my liking.
And when Tlholwe’s latest book, Counting the Coffins, published by Kwela Books, and his second after Ancient Rites, landed on my desk, my head was immediately filled with images of the man on the night of the awards, who seemed indifferent to almost everything going on around him. I read the first chapter and buried the book. I’d return to it a few weeks later on a dull Sunday after church, with nothing else to do except twiddle my thumbs – which wasn’t such an alluring option.
I started at the Prologue, titled “It begins”, where Tlholwe writes about a private investigator, who hails from a black township. For two days I was entranced. I didn’t even remember that my Sunday was supposed to have gone down as famously as watching paint dry. When I got to page 250 where he concludes “It ends”, I knew I wanted to read his first book and everything else he’ll ever write in the future. I vowed to forgive the author his [real-life] idiosyncrasies.
Tholwe has good language skills. A former teacher before he took up writing, he is a product of the famed Argus Journalism Cadet School that produced a myriad shining stars of the press. I am not surprised at the beauty of his prose.
Counting the Coffins is the touching story of a young couple, Lesego and Thabang Maje who lose an unborn child after the wife drives into a concrete wall to avoid a drugged teenager in his father’s car. As if in consolation, the other twin survives. But as fate would have it, Thabang, who is a private investigator, will find himself dealing with the boy’s father later in the book as he investigates a failed building project. The man at the helm of this farce that cost many local investors a lot of money is Sandile Nkosi, the arrogant business tycoon whose son caused the accident that took Thabang’s child. The private investigator has a score to settle.
Tlholwe’s Counting the Coffins is a contemporary story that’s written very well. It is just a bit difficult – for me, at least – to place a black guy in the townships east of Johannesburg near Natalspruit Hospital, and the scenes of the internecine violence in Thokoza as ‘believable’.
The story though could easily see another life as a television drama, Mr Tlholwe! Maybe some big shot at the South African Broadcasting Corporation will read the book and get a brain wave. They are, after all, forever without ideas about what to feed the long-suffering TV license-payer.
And Counting the Coffins has potential to inspire a lot more creativity. Well done!
© makatilemedia 10/2011