'Bitter Eden is earthy and lyrical, caustic and moving.' – Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap
BITTER EDEN, Tatamkhulu Afrika’s semi-autobiographical World War II novel is published today by Toby Fountaine of Blue Mark Books.
Based on the author’s own experience as a prisoner-of-war in World War II, this frank and poetic novel deals with three men who must negotiate the emotions that are brought to the surface by the physical closeness of survival in the male-only camps.
First published in the UK by Arcadia in 2002, shortly before the 82-year-old author's death, the modern classic was published by Picador USA last year and was selected in the 2015 Stonewall Book Awards as an Honor Book of Literature.
Named in NPR’s Best Books of 2014, Saeen Jones writes that ‘Afrika's autobiographical novel based on his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.’
Presses de la Cite pre-empted for French rights for the novel, which they published for the Rentrée Litteraire in Autumn 2015.
The book reveals the complex rituals of camp life and the diversion of the POW theatre (in which, in real life, the author played Lady Macbeth and frequently shared a stage with fellow prisoner Denholm Elliot). It lays bare the terrible cruelties, but also the loyalties and deep bonds the men know will never be replicated when the return to reality. BITTER EDEN is a tender, powerful book, of lives inexorably changed, of a war whose ending does not bring peace. More than simply ‘war’ literature, or ‘gay’ literature, it is a deeply moving, human work about the meaning of love, and what it is to be a man.
Tatamkhulu Afrika was born in Egypt of Arab/Turkish parents who moved to South Africa while he was still a baby, but died in the influenza epidemic of 1920. He was adopted, but later, after learning the full details of his history, he converted to Islam, became active in his opposition to apartheid, and changed his name to Tatamkhulu Afrika ('Grandfather Africa' in Xhosa). Starting to write in earnest late in life, he published seven prize-winning volumes of poetry and several novellas. He was included in the Carcanet anthology Ten South African Poets. Bitter Eden was his last novel. A new edition has recently been published in Italy by Playground.
Publisher Toby Fountaine says: ‘The unequalled bonds formed between fighting men has been explored in great literature before; but this story, about how that bond becomes a deeper love, has not. It is hauntingly written and unforgettable.’
Isobel Dixon of Blake Friedmann remembers how the near-blind writer’s handwritten letter arrived by post, along with the photocopy of a manuscript typed by a friend: ‘I knew Tatamkhulu Afrika’s name then as a poet and anti-apartheid activist, but nothing could prepare me for the enduring impact of this slow-simmering story. It is one of the great pleasures of championing an author to see others fall in love with a book too and BITTER EDEN is a novel so many people become absolutely passionate about. I am glad that Toby is one of that discerning number.’
Praise for BITTER EDEN:
‘Afrika ‘shows with an insider’s empathy how, in the myriad battles of our recent past, an even greater number of private wars were lost or won.’ – Argus.
‘BITTER EDEN’s love is neither kind nor tame nor ever adorned. The word love is never mentioned, because love—if this is really the name for it—is so spare and brutal and bare-knuckled that the characters themselves aren’t even aware of it. But this book will haunt you, and stay with you, and won’t ever let go, just like the memory of a love that never happened but should have happened continues to exact its toll of misfired hopes and regrets. But the language is not spare and the poetry here, like shards of a broken bottle, is simply everywhere.’ – André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name
'Harsh, exquisite and concise, an astonishing story about men in close quarters forging relationships that border on trust and betrayal - and how love, in war, is an ambivalent bond.' -- The Independent
'An extraordinarily powerful novel… it reads like an epic prose poem - or a kind of deathbed confession.' - Mark Simpson, Independent on Sunday (Books of the Year, 2002)
‘Gorgeously written…a small masterpiece’ - The San Francisco Chronicle Review
‘A gripping study of the dehumanising effects of war and an empathetic portrait of illicit love’ -- The New York Times