Mother of all reviews

Incognito: A Breathless Read for All the Right Reasons

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Writing vigorous material is not easy. And documenting a life from within a first person perspective can be a pit of snakes: what you might consider utterly fascinating about your own life might not be enough to get your reader to turn one page before soporific murkiness pulls in. Vigorous, funny, real and in the first person, Mark Verbaan’s Incognito is unputdownable.

If for the past decade or so, you looked forward to his various print media columns under his pseudonym Ben Trovato, which ruthlessly and relentlessly pulled opened the blinkers and poked into the sensibilities of South African crass stupidity and governmental mediocrity, you will completely relish this book which gives the back story of how the name and the idea of the pseudonym grew.

Admittedly, this element of the rich life Verbaan has lived, in, under, over and alongside the proverbial radar, only crops up from chapter 18, but the writing has so much wisdom and magnificent ability that it is not only a book about a pseudonym explained and set free, as it were. Or one about a columnist and sub-editor who was given short shrift by the newspapers he wrote for, or gave them the finger when he’d had enough of their petty politics. It’s not even only about a young man sailing, traipsing and gingerly wading through the poisonous contradictions and heady nuances that being young and white and articulate in a country rotten with apartheid values was like.

It’s about all of these things, but it is underpinned with such flawlessly crafted writing that you will want to eat this book from beginning to end, and will have difficulty not reading it all in one night.

Resonant with the kind of breathless pace in Jack Kerouac’s On the RoadIncognitomight remind you a little of the focus of JH Thompson’s An Unpopular War, as it offers a running commentary on life, love, loss, letting go and bewilderment in a manner that reeks with such honesty and genuineness that you will laugh – and at times cry – out loud. Never sinking into the maudlin, it’s a breathless read for all the finest reasons, but the laughs conjured up are never hollow. Cynical, yes. Obscene, certainly. Amoral, indeed. And totally laden with drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll. But as you read, the rhythm of the language is audible in your head, and it’s cast with such unselfconscious capability that it leaves you reeling. And makes you fall a little bit in love with a man who can write with such rigour.

This is a lovely book which keeps the mystique of Trovato behind his dark glasses and black Fedora intact as it celebrates Verbaan with all his flaws and graces, offering simultaneously, beautiful, brave and critical insight into the monstrous incompetence that makes our world turn.

Incognito: The Memoirs of Ben Trovato by Mark Verbaan (2014: Macmillan, Johannesburg)

 

http://robynsassenmyview.wordpress.com

 

Lotto for the literate

A lot of people are asking me how they can get hold of my latest book without actually paying money for it. That’s just how they roll.

One of the ways is to enter a competition being run by the publishers, Pan Macmillan. It involves retweeting their tweet.

If that’s still too much effort, you could always try shoplifting.

‪#WIN 1 of 5 copies of ‪@BTrovato‘s Incognito! To enter, RT this by 9 am (SAST) on 28/07. Ts&Cs: ‪http://bit.ly/HWOGj0  ‪pic.twitter.com/eXlRy94nEl

 

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An open letter to Kendall Jones – femme fatale of the African jungle

Dear Kendall,

May I call you Kendall? Ms Jones sounds so formal. Besides, I feel like I know you. Yes, I do mean ‘know’ in the biblical sense. You look eerily similar to a dozen or so women I’ve slept with. I’m a sucker for the vacuous, blonde, slutty look, which you have in spades.

You’ve been popping up all over Facebook lately. Well done! You must be tremendously excited by all the attention. Sure, most of it isn’t the kind of attention a normal person would want. But then again, you’re not normal. Far from it.

When I saw that photograph of you straddling a lion you’d just shot, I thought, “My god, what a magnificent animal.” The lion wasn’t a bad specimen, either. I like the way you’re tugging on his mane to make his mouth hang open. With his eyes shut, it’s almost as if he’s moaning and begging for more! You like that, don’t you? You’re such a tease.

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I’m sure you didn’t have to walk too far to shoot that big boy. With your looks, I expect the park rangers tranquilized him, then used pointy sticks to prod him towards you. There’s an art to this kind of hunting, you know. The real professionals can take down a darted lion at ten paces without spilling their drink. You wouldn’t have been drinking, though. You need both hands to wield a bow. It must be incredibly difficult to kill a lion with a weapon like that. I bet he looked like a porcupine by the time you’d finished with him.

I really love your profile picture on FB. There’s something about a blonde dressed from head to toe in camouflage that gets my blood racing.

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And if she happens to have her arms wrapped around a dead leopard, well, it’s into the cold shower for me.

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Your page says you were “born and raised in the great outdoors of the great State of Texas. What a shame. Were your parents too poor to afford a house? I’m not judging you. Some of my best friends were born in the bush. I don’t mean to be presumptuous, either. For all I know, you weren’t raised by people at all. That’s okay. All the really cool people were raised by animals. Except those raised by wombats. They don’t turn out so well. Have you ever shot a wombat? I believe they explode. Quite pretty at night.

Is it true that your 13th birthday present was the chance to blow a rhino’s brains out? What a lucky child you were! Most girls don’t get to kill their first rhino until they are well into their teens. Did they blindfold it for you? Oh, wait. It’s you who would have been wearing the blindfold. On the other hand, it was probably more of an execution than a hunt, so I’m sure someone with your compassion would have insisted that the rhino be blindfolded.

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There’s something poetic about it. While kids your age were playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, you were playing fire-the-bullet-into-the-rhino. That’s why you’re famous and they’re working at Mickey D’s, right?

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Well, as we say in South Africa, the only good rhino is a dead rhino. You’re doing us all a tremendous favor by ridding the bush of these unsightly vermin. Any animal that has a horn on its nose deserves to die. Silly bastards.

I also love the picture of you with the elephant. I can’t quite make out what you have in your hand. It looks like a javelin. Did you stab him to death? It’s the only language they understand.

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I hope he was asleep and that you didn’t risk your life. Someone as hot as you deserves to live a long and happy life. Elephants, on the other hand, are grey – a color that went out of fashion in 1884. Ivory, though, will always be fashionable. Those two enormous tusks will keep you in jewelry for a long time to come. Hey, imagine if you lost one of your perfect teeth, as impossible as that may seem. You could carve a new one and use that as an implant. How cool would that be?!?!? LOL

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Did you know that you can also use their feet as wastepaper bins or umbrella stands? All you have to do is hollow them out. Of course you know this. Why else would you shoot an elephant if not to decorate your ranch?

I can’t believe how many animals you have killed and you’re only 19! Imagine what you’re going to do in your late-twenties, when you’re strong enough to carry a bazooka or an RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher. The carnage will be spectacular!

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Is it true that the bunny-huggers are threatening to shoot you if you come back to Africa? I’d like to see them try. These hairy-legged losers think knives are for cutting up carrots instead of buffalo. Morons.

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You’ve tried to make these rabid left-wing loonies see reason by explaining that your hunting actually funds conservation and “helps feed African villagers”.

Truth is, I’m not very good at math or even logic, really, but if you say that killing an animal is the best way to ensure its survival, I won’t argue. With a face like yours, you could tell me that hippos love nothing more than a bullet between the eyes and I’d believe you.

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And if there’s one thing that African villagers want more than access to free broadband internet, it’s a crocodile carpaccio for starters, followed by fillet of wildebeest topped with monkey gland sauce. Real glands from real monkeys, obviously. Do you do monkeys? Crafty little buggers. You might want to try using a good ol’ American-made flamethrower. That way they come ready-cooked. There should be loads of cheap ex-Vietnam models floating around. Flamethrowers, not monkeys.

You probably don’t get much time to hang out with the Texas Tech University’s cheerleading squad any more, which is a bit of a pity. Perhaps you could combine the two. Drug a cheetah and when you do that leg action thing, you could kick him in the head. That would get a laugh from your fans, at least.

You say you’re hoping to host your own TV show next year? What a brilliant idea. I remember Jay Leno would bring animals onto his show. Instead of having a boring old expert talking about them, you could have people from the audience come up and shoot them in the face. It wouldn’t be gratuitous, obviously. That would be plain wrong. There would have to be prizes of some sort.

Anyway, babe. Good luck with the killing. Hope to see you out here again soon. You’d better hurry, though. The Mozambicans are poaching all our rhino and if you leave it too long there won’t be any left.

Say hi to Melissa Bachman. I’m sure you two are best of buddies. Do you have any pictures of the two of you in a hot tub? I’d sure like to see ‘em.

Anyway, darlin’. I gotta go. Tonight me and my buddies are lookin’ to bag us some German Shepherds. That’ll teach them fuckers to bark all night long.

Aim straight and keep your boots bloody.

Murderously yours,

Ben Trovato

 

Peer review pressure is mounting

My books have garnered around forty or fifty reviews.

I have been called everything from “the Che Guevara of literary commentary” to “the literary equivalent of the Unabomber”. I have been described as Pythonesque and Pynchonesque. Arrogant and opinionated. Insane, bizarre and completely cracked. But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Have you bought my memoir yet? I didn’t think so. Back to me, then.

Miraculously, not a single review over the years has been negative. Sure, there was one book that got sent out to critics with ten rand notes slipped inside, but I doubt that was enough to swing it in my favour. Any ethical books page editor would require at least a hundred bucks to say something nice.

For the first time, though, I’m feeling a little anxious. Being criticised for your writing is one thing. Being hammered for the things you’ve done in your life is something else. But I suppose that’s the risk you take when you write a memoir.

So far, so good.

Bruce Dennill

Brian Joss review

Ray Joseph review

Shoot me now

If you’re going to expose yourself, there’s no better place to do it than in the Namib Desert.

“Come up,” said my daughter, Liberty. “We’ll shoot you.” A lot of fathers live in fear of hearing those words. Did she have patricide in mind, or something a little more visual? It was hard to say.

Flying from Cape Town to Windhoek takes as long as it does to fly from Cape Town to Durban, except it’s four times more expensive and twice as weird.

Alice fell down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. You get the same feeling landing at Hosea Kutako International Airport.

Liberty was born in Windhoek – something for which I have repeatedly apologised. She and her Belgian-born boyfriend, Laurent, graduated from Afda film school in Cape Town a couple of years ago and have set up their own production company in Namibia.

When I told her that my memoirs had been published and that I needed to decide whether I should once and for all ditch my disguise, which has served me well over the past ten years as a writer, she suggested we head for the desert.

Laurent’s parents own Namib Sky Balloon Safaris near Sossusvlei. They live, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. Crime isn’t a problem. If you do get stabbed, it’ll be by an oryx or a porcupine.

This is an agoraphobic’s worst nightmare. Rolling plains, mountains and dunes disappear into the distance. It’s vast, empty and primal.

“So will you be taking all your clothes off?” Laurent asked nervously. He had already seen me wearing high heels and one of Liberty’s short, tight skirts – for a photo that accompanied my Sunday Times column – but I could see the idea of me prancing about, willy a-flap in the breeze, might stretch familial ties to breaking point.

“Let’s get out there and see what happens,” I said. They loaded up their gear and we headed off into the shimmering nothingness.

There’s a reason you don’t see many people in black overcoats wandering about the desert. I sweated like a sick pig as they filmed me running, walking and eventually crawling. Laurent fired up the drone while I went off to sit in the middle of one of the many freaky fairy circles in that area. It came towards me at a terrible speed. Moments before it whacked into my head, Laurent sent it soaring skywards, the GoPro capturing a moment of terror on my face.

Did I get naked? Watch the video.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaxG2CrSPRg

THE CREW

Liberty & Laurent of Endemic Productions on location.

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THE BASE

The home of Laurent’s parents, who own Namib Sky Balloon Safaris

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So very launched

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I don’t know why my publisher, Pan Macmillan, decided that I needed two launches for my book – Incognito – The Memoirs of Ben Trovato – in the space of a week in Cape Town. Perhaps they wanted a backup in case one of the launches had to be aborted like a cheap North Korean nuclear missile test.

Both events were wildly successful. Then again, I also think World War Two was wildly successful.

The man given the onerous task of interrogating me at Kalk Bay Books on 28th May and again at the Book Lounge on 5th June was the legendary troubadour and troublemaker, Roger Lucey.

The denizens of the Deep South emerged from their lairs to guzzle wine and beer at Kalk Bay Books, while the urbanistas did the same a week later at the Book Lounge, conveniently located across the road from the depraved Kimberley Hotel.

Thierry Cassuto – Maestro Geppetto of Puppet Nation ZA – had his contacts in the underworld deliver six bottles of Jameson’s to the Book Lounge, where shooters were shot and laughs were had.

Bella, who features in Incognito, stepped in to lend a hand. She said the only reason she let me live was because I had made myself look far worse than her in the book and she felt sorry for me.

Making my first public appearances after writing as Ben Trovato for over a decade was both terrifying and exhilarating. Apparently I have to do it all over again – twice – at the South African Book Fair next weekend. It’s enough to make one give up writing altogether.

Here are some photos from both launches.

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The Naked Launch II

 

 

CAPE TOWN is jammed with people wandering the streets at night looking for a free drink, a good time or shelter from the storm. If you’re one of them, come to the launch of Incognito – The Memoirs of Ben Trovato on Thursday. You won’t be sorry. I might be, but you won’t.

The invitation says 5.30pm, but the earlier you come, the sooner you can start drinking. I’m hoping to get there around midday. If I’m not in the bookshop, I’ll be across the road in the bar of the Kimberley Hotel. It’s your round.

Incognito Launch - Kalk Bay Books - 28 May 2014

Date: 5 June 2014

Time: 17h30 for 18h00

Where: The Book Lounge 71 Roeland Street

RSVP: booklounge@gmail.com or 021-4622425

Ben Trovato – Incognito – The Book Lounge – 05 June 2014

 

Author flees – gets high

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My memoir hit the bookshops last week so I left the country before anyone could read it. My publisher accused me of aberrant behaviour. Apparently the normal thing would have been to stay around and help publicise it.

Right now I’m in a stone house at the foot of a koppie on the far edge of the Namib desert. There is no fence. The people who live here don’t even bother closing their front door at night, let alone lock it. The only chance of getting stabbed is if you startle an oryx or stand on a porcupine.

It was probably a mistake to flee to the very country in which my ex-wife lives. I saw her briefly and she badgered me into giving her a copy of my book so she could see what I had written about her. It felt as if I were handing over a warrant for my own execution. Early the next morning, I drove into the desert.

When the people I was staying with offered me a free flight in a hot air balloon, I immediately suspected the ex-wife had read the chapter on our marriage and had put out a hit. My suspicions were confirmed when I discovered there would be only two other people in the balloon with me. Both looked like potential assassins. Then again, in my eyes most people look like hired killers. It’s one of the reasons I don’t go out much.

Apparently the best time to go ballooning, or get murdered, is 4.30am. I hadn’t been up so early since the army. When you get out of bed at that time, the first thought that crosses your mind is, “I want to kill someone.” Good if you’re a soldier, not so good if you’re a writer. Although I suppose you could always kill off one of your characters. Too many early mornings and it’s going to be a very short book.

An hour before sunset found me bouncing through the desert on the back of a bakkie, an icy wind flagellating my face. Riding up front were a Dutchman and a Belgian, nationalities notorious for committing all manner of heinous deeds. Moments before my eyeballs froze over, an indistinct shape lit only by starlight loomed out of the gloom. Three shadowy figures worked silently on something alarmingly big. It turned out to be the instrument that would carry me to my death.

The Belgian and Dutchman – a real one, from Holland – began fiddling with equipment. I stood to one side, hands in pockets, watching warily. Suddenly there was a deafening roar and two jets of blue and orange flame shot into the night. I almost soiled my broeks. If this was the assassination attempt, they failed miserably.

“Nice try, guys,” I said. “Better luck next time.” They ignored me and continued assembling their infernal chariot of fire. With the balloon inflated, I was ordered into the basket. It was tiny. I have seen bigger baskets carried by fat people at picnics. I was about to jump out and run out away when I looked down. The car was the size of a matchbox.

“Two thousand metres and climbing,” said the Belgian. That’s the trouble with balloons. It’s deathly quiet and there’s very little sense of motion so you don’t know if you’re going up, down or sideways. Actually, it’s only quiet when the pilot isn’t spewing giant gobs of fire into the belly of the beast.

With us in the basket were three large gas cannisters. The kind you see on the back of trucks displaying the warning, “No naked flames”. Given what was happening in that balloon, those flames should have been arrested for public indecency.

“There’s a gas leak,” the Belgian shouted. My sphincter snapped shut. “What the hell was that,” said the Dutchman. “Sphincter,” I said, pointing at my bottom. “Gas leak’s not coming from me.” And wouldn’t be, for quite some time. Not without the help of a crowbar.

We stopped going up and started going down. “Maximum velocity,” said the Belgian. “What are you going to do?” I waited for him to say, “Jump.” Just before we hit the ground, the Dutchman let fly with a double-barrelled burst of fire and we hovered an inch above the sand. Before I could get out, we were off again. Were they planning on scaring me to death? It was working, but it would take a while. Eventually it dawned on me that this was a training flight. The Dutchman was being tested on emergency procedures. I felt better after that.

A day later I got coerced into helping film a music video for a German-Namibian kwaito artist called Ees. I held a reflector board and made suggestions that everyone ignored. It was viciously hot but they fed me free beer so I couldn’t complain.

Agoraphobia kicked in after a couple of days and I fled for Windhoek, the city in which I once spent ten years, spawning a daughter and almost losing my mind. It’s spread out since I was last there. The city has the luxury of being able to sprawl in any direction it chooses, like a drunk Russian oligarch.

Where there was once a parking lot, a Hilton Hotel now stands. It appears to have been designed by the same guy who did the Berlin Wall. It was built on unstable ground and is apparently slowly sinking. I suppose they’ll just keep adding floors. Eventually, guests on the fourth floor will have to take the elevator down to their room. I imagine the view wouldn’t be much to write home about.

Overlooking the city is a vulgar monolith decorated in a shocking shade of gold. It’s the independence memorial museum. It was completed three years ago and has yet to open. Korean efficiency and Namibian planning is not a good combination. The worker ants shipped in from Pyongyang must have put it up overnight because when someone from the council came around in the morning, they discovered there was no way to get an exhibit larger than an AK-47 into the building.

The statue of a Germany genocidal maniac on a horse is gone. In its place is a towering bronze of Swapo ringleader and Namibia’s first democratic president, Sam Nujoma. He stares out over the city, a copy of my book clutched in his right hand.

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I left before Windhoek could suck my soul dry. Hosea Kutako Airport falls somewhere between a hanger and an abattoir. People mill about like doomed livestock, fear and confusion etched on their faces as they realise there is only one departure lounge consisting of a duty free shop more expensive than Edgars and a couple of tourist shops selling wooden giraffes and stuffed animals that cost almost the same as the real ones.

There is one bar staffed by three slow, hostile women wearing hairnets. Namibia’s entire service industry is staffed by slow, hostile people. Not all of them wear hairnets.

Passengers are expected to remove their shoes and put them through the X-ray machine. Has nobody told them that Osama’s dead?

I almost missed my flight because the time on my laptop said it was 2.45. I thought I still had three hours to go. It turned out I was looking at the remaining battery life, not the clock.

The waitress brought a beer to my table, made deliberate eye-contact and said, “That’s your fourth.” I felt like I owed her some sort of explanation, or at the very least a reassurance that my pace generally slowed down after the first four. Or so.

Namibia has a population of two million people. Nine of them drink moderately. The rest hit it hard. I didn’t understand what her problem was. Maybe she didn’t have a problem. Maybe I did.

Anway. I discovered the worst place in the world – the smoking cubicle at Namibia’s airport. It’s a perspex box designed to accommodate no more than three people. I saw six men go in there. Only four came out.

 

* The Memoirs of Ben Trovato is published by Panmacmillan and is available online and at bookstores countrywide.