Books on our books editor's desk this week.
Wild Karoo by Mitch Reardon (Struik Nature)
What was once viewed as a harsh and desolate place of limited attraction, the "Karoo" is rapidly gaining popularity with visitors who now make it a travel destination, keen to partake of its legendary charm, its extraordinary flora and the resurgence of wildlife that once again populates its plains. After centuries of relative isolation, the Karoo – South Africa’s parched heartland – is coming of age to the tourist industry.
This beautifully presented and illustrated book documents Mitch Reardon’s 4 000-kilometre journey of discovery through the region. In it he focuses on all the aspects that make the area what it is: local nature conservation; the game, large and small - some recently reintroduced - plus birds, reptiles and invertebrates; the unique, arid-adapted flora; the landscape and geology.
Also included is the history and lifestyle of the people who have made a home here and the plans to combine public and private protected land to create wildlife corridors between isolated parks, re-establishing old migration routes and so reversing some of the effects of human settlement.
Reardon brings this place of stark and wild beauty alive vividly. A must-read for anyone interested in travel, wildlife and the environment.
Hold by Michael Donkor (Fourth Estate)
Belinda knows how to follow the rules. As a housegirl, she's learnt the right way to polish water glasses, to wash and fold handkerchiefs, and to keep a tight lid on the memories of village she left behind when she came to Kumasi.
Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven years old and irrepressible, the young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had.
Amma has had enough of the rules. A straight-A pupil at her exclusive South-London school, she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents. But watching their once-confident teenager grow sullen and wayward, they decide that sensible Belinda might be just the shining example Amma needs.
So Belinda is summoned from Ghana to London, and must leave Mary to befriend a troubled girl who shows no desire for her friendship. She encounters a city as bewildering as it is thrilling, and tries to impose order on her unsettling new world.
As a Brixton summer turns to autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover the beginnings of an unexpected kinship. But when the cracks in their defences open up, the secrets they have both been holding tightly threaten to seep out.
Moving between Ghana and London, "Hold" is an intimate, powerful coming-of-age novel. It’s a story of friendship and family, shame and forgiveness; of learning what to cling to, and when to let go.
White Houses by Amy Bloom (Granta Books)
This is an extraordinary story about an extraordinary love. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor took up residence in the "White House." Accompanying them was the celebrated journalist Lorena Hickok - Hick to friends.
A straight-talking reporter from South Dakota, her passionate relationship with the idealistic, patrician First Lady would shape the rest of their lives.
As related by the indomitable Hick, "White Houses" is the story of Eleanor and Hick's hidden love, and of Hick's unlikely journey from a dirt-poor childhood to the centre of privilege and power. It's filled with fascinating back-room politics, the secrets and scandals of the era, and exploring the potency of enduring love.
An imaginative tour-de-force from a writer of extraordinary and exuberant talent.