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Rosemund Handler

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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpt’ Category

A Second Extract from Us and Them

Us and ThemThe following is a second extract from my new novel, Us and Them, which will be published by Penguin Books next month. Read the first extract here:

~ ~ ~

Atop towering peaks we breathe the sweet chilled air of gods, privy to godlike views. Luminous stretches of ocean tumble below like fistfuls of stars thrown down to earth; shack cities and flatlands are pulverised in the ruthless high noon of the sun. We lie on our bellies, side by side like crocodiles, basking on a warm tongue of rock over an abyss beneath which the tangled sprawl of Cape Town devours every slope – a plague of locusts that might be dashed away at any moment by a primeval whim of the weather or a rumble and heave of the sleeping Gulliver pressing up against our stomachs.

Gazing down at the crawling armies of steel and concrete, of corrugated iron, wood and plastic defiling the grandeur of the foothills hundreds of metres below, we wonder at the daring of such puny insects.

I feel lucky, says Thandi. Because beauty is not a given. Millions have no eyes to see it; it is a luxury that belongs to those who can afford to see it. The rest have their heads down, too busy working, or doing whatever it takes for their next meal. For their children.

She sighs. I remember what it feels like to be poor. It still keeps me awake at nights. It never really leaves you. It’s not the body that suffers the worst, your body stops asking. It’s the head. And the heart. You wake up in the morning filled up with pus you know will never be drained. And your life just trickles away, a little more each day.

She gazes down, smiling slightly. Until Phil came into my life I didn’t think I would ever be able to take care of my mother. She fought so hard to give me an education, and I couldn’t even take care of myself.

At fourteen or fifteen, I am awed by my older friend’s broad experience and envious of her chic and confidence, her carefree, unfettered lifestyle. Struggle is as familiar to her as it is unfamiliar to me, yet she seems to resent neither my whiteness nor my untouched youth and ignorance of hardship.

I feel blessed the more with my X-ray vision, the musky oxygen of fynbos, the rock beneath that is bone of my bone. I soar like some lordly bird in the vast blue helmet of sky and eyeball the moiling paradoxes of the city below, the tug of war, as Thandi calls it, between beauty and inhumanity that cleaves through its heart.

So the hot skies of summer and rain-swept winters glide by and the craggy peaks, the building blocks of my soul, cradle us in mountainous arms. By the end of every hike petty demons are exorcised, defeated by a new trail, a cups-and-saucers pitch, a rock scramble, a sinuous cave or precarious descent.

I could no more imagine my life without that sensuous love of place than I could imagine my life in a country without mountains. Nor could I imagine for a moment that such a love might be taken from me.

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An Extract from Us and Them (Coming August 2012)

Us and ThemThe following is an extract from my new novel, Us and Them, which will be published by Penguin Books next month.

~ ~ ~

Before I left Cape Town I took a stroll along the beachfront, relishing the winter warmth. Two old people were sitting on a bench nearby, holding hands and feeding the gulls. They were smiling at each other as if communicating a secret. It was so intimate that just looking at them was intrusive. That didn’t stop me. I watched the pair covertly from under my hat for a few minutes, vaguely puzzled that I was so drawn to the sight of them together.

The two were intensely private in their public space. It took me a while, but eventually their silent communion offered a glimmering into the shadows of my own mind.

I was envious. Filled with inchoate yearning. What the old couple shared seemed worth searching for, worth finding, no matter how long it might take.

Fear fluttered inside me then like a butterfly and I knew I had to reach out and grasp it, or let it fly free. The choice was mine. If you die doing what makes you afraid, I told myself, at least you’ll have really lived.

The woman looked up and saw me. She smiled and I smiled back. Her face, lightly cross-hatched with lines and markings, seemed the essence of a well-lived life. The man’s milky gaze was focused on the distant line of silver along the horizon. He glanced at me, then back at her. I gave them a little salute, suddenly grateful for the window of light they unwittingly offered in the confusion and sadness I was experiencing at leaving my twin, my own mirror of light and of darkness. At a tricky time in my life, a time of great change, I felt I had been given a singular insight into what it means to be truly alive.

Instead of fear swallowing me up, the world seemed to open up as a challenge and an opportunity.

Though the sensations were fleeting at the time, those people remain one of the significant recurring images in my life.

The environment I moved into does not welcome the kind of privacy I witnessed; still less the private world of emotional intimacy. A part of this distancing of the self from itself may stem from the all-pervasive obsession with technology, the internet, social networking and all the good and bad these tools have brought into our lives and our societies. For myself, I am clear that if I am not vigilant, they will infiltrate far more of my life than they deserve. They have the capacity to annihilate the quiet innermost self I regard as the most priceless part of my individuality.

No matter how overloaded with work and angst, many of my colleagues don’t know how to be alone, how to work with their anxiety rather than against it, how to become less fearful of emotional closeness to another human being.

Being one of a twin has acquainted me with the essential pain and rewards of a close relationship; it has also made me more suspicious of others. Emotional intimacy, complex and difficult, is all the more so when fear comes into it. Paola and I are familiar with fear in all its guises; we were raised with it. My sister calls it our other shadow sibling – as if we needed another one.

Still, even at times when anything fine and useful in my life seems most inaccessible, as remote as the moon, the image remains. Like the moon, it is inviolable.

The closest I have come is what we shared, Paola and I; what was taken from us. Until I discover the secret joy of that old couple on the bench for myself, I don’t think I will ever be able to let them go. Holding on to them gives me a kind of faith that it’s out there somewhere, just as they were, and will find me in its own good time.

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