Human & Rousseau R150

Reviewed By Arja Salafranca

Reading Romances To Remember is both a trip down memory lane and through the tabloids of yesteryear, as well as an introduction to love affairs you've never heard of.

The usual suspects are there: Des and Dawn Lindberg, Alan and Elna Boesak, Desmond and Leah Tutu, Nelson and Winnie Mandela. The collection is made up of 27 essays that explore South African love stories in a time span that stretches from the late 1800s to the present day.

The writers interviewed many of the protagonists of these real- life tales, making do with archive material when interviews were not possible. It's broken down into sections: politicians and their partners, clerics in love, art, literary loves and showbiz and glamour.

A definite highlight is Elmarie Otto's Long Live Late Life: a glimpse at the relationship between Albie Sachs and his wife, Vanessa September, over 30 years his junior. Sachs talks of the freedom and lack of baggage September's generation enjoys. He has found happiness with his new wife, as well as fathered a son. But how do they deal with such a huge age gap? September answers: "We came to the conclusion that if I slowed down 25 percent and he speeded up 25 percent, we'd be the perfect couple. It became the measure for everything that was meaningful in our lives."

This is a beautiful, well-written, sensitive portrait of a loving relationship.

Leah and Desmond Tutu celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2005 by renewing their vows in a "new" marriage ceremony, writes Anastasia de Vries in A Seasoned and a Deeper Love.

In a marriage that has spanned not only decades, but several moves to several countries as Tutu rose through clerical ranks; the Tutus have learned that a marriage is built on such little things as knowing when to say "Sorry, I was wrong". At his new wedding he sums up what she has meant to him: "Leah, you are a fantastic person. I know that I could not have been the same person without you."

But sometimes love really does have to conquer all, as in the case of Ilse and Beyers Naudé, described in Erika Murray-Theron's The Little Marvel. Despite defying the apartheid government and suffering political restriction under house arrest, the Naudés kept their love alive. "Ilse kept up Bey's spirits and he comforted her."

Says Ilse: "I could not always share what I felt. I simply had to bury it inside me, because I did not want to make things even more difficult for Beyers."

Similarly Winnie Madikizela-Mandela suffered at the hands of the apartheid government, enduring banishment to the Free State, while keeping her husband's name alive in the eyes of the world's media.

Their relationship, which could not ultimately survive 27 years of Mandela's imprisonment, is described by Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob.

Some of the literary loves explored include those of the difficult, tempestuous relationship between Ingrid Jonker and Jack Cope, as well as poet Eugene Marais and Lettie Beyers, and poet Jan Rabie and his Scottish artist wife, Marjorie Wallace.

The art and showbiz bristle with well-known names which have regularly hit the headlines, including Barbara and Christian Barnard, yet this marriage too did not survive, thanks to the surgeon's many infidelities.

Francois Bloemhof delivers a sparkling piece of writing in Fairy tale with a shelf life? This examines the love affair between Prince Albert of Monaco and South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock. A great love affair? Hardly. This is essentially a speculation piece, the two have not announced any plans to be together, but this essay begs to be read for its witty cheek alone.

Gay love is given in a nod in the stories of clerics Laurie Gaum and Douw Wessels, and Jackie and Vera Nagtehaal.

Complier Corlia Fourie also chose to include the love stories of the Boer Republic, the Orange Free State President Theunis Steyn, as well as Boer General Koos de la Rey, as well as Afrikaans singer Carike Keuzenkamp's marriage to Olaus van Zyl. I did not feel these stories, for instance, were of that much interest to an English-speaking audience.

I found the collection suffers from a bias towards the love stories of Afrikaners, and many more representative stories could have been sourced. But it remains an interesting compendium of love stories which attempts an explanation of why love survives the vicissitudes of life.