[Debate] (Fwd) James Kilgore's 2nd Novel about SA water warriors - Freedom Never Rests - available
mzimasi at ilrig.org.za
Tue Apr 3 09:57:34 BST 2012
Any order process
From: debate-list-bounces at fahamu.org [mailto:debate-list-bounces at fahamu.org]
On Behalf Of Patrick Bond
Sent: 01 April 2012 09:39 PM
To: DEBATE; SAWC; Water Warriors
Subject: Re: [Debate] (Fwd) James Kilgore's 2nd Novel about SA water
warriors - Freedom Never Rests - available
(Great interview from current Amandla! magazine, below, and ordering info
Freedom never rests an interview with James Kilgore | by Andre Marais |
ent&print=1&page=> Print |
Kilgores remarkable debut novel We Are All Zimbabwean Now (2009) is a
wonderful piece of fiction. It tells the story of an idealistic young
Americans growing disenchantment with Mugabe. A member of the SLA
(Symbionese Liberation Army, a US left-wing urban militant group), Kilgore
fled a Federal explosives charge in 1975 and remained a fugitive for 27
years. Until US secret services captured him, he was in southern Africa
spending most of his time as a political activist, researcher and teacher.
In his latest novel, Freedom never rests, he creates a very believable
political drama in the context of delivery protests in South Africa, with a
strong-willed trade unionist as its main protagonist. Addressing these
issues is somewhat of a rarity in current South African fiction. Amandla!
had the chance to interview him. Freedom Never Rests, James Kilgore,
Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2011
Andre Marais (AM): In this novel, you return back to Africa and Southern
Africa, any reason for this?
James Kilgore (JK): I lived in southern Africa for 20 years. My kids were
born in southern Africa. I met my wife in southern Africa. During my time in
the region, I immersed myself in the political struggles of the day. When I
was arrested and extradited to the US to serve six and a half years in
prison, I felt as if I had been ripped away from my roots. Writing about
southern Africa helped me to maintain an emotional connection to this place
where my family and friends lived, where my comrades continued their
struggles for popular power and the fabled better life for all.
What was the main inspiration for the novel?
In the introduction, I write about this. The moment of inspiration came when
I was incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center in Dublin, California. As
I got out of the shower, I peeked into the empty stall next to me. The
shower was going full blast, spraying a thick stream of hot water, all going
to waste. It would be a month before anyone came to rectify the situation.
Every time I saw that water gushing out I thought of communities in South
Africa that I had visited and researched, places where municipalities and
private providers were squeezing every last cent out of the poorest water
consumers. So that water was my initial spark, but then I thought beyond
water, thought about people organising, trying to make sense out of the new
dispensation in South Africa and attempting to figure out what their stance
should be toward the new ruling party if it failed to deliver on its
promises. These were complicated political and historical questions, issues
of organisation, economics, ultimately part of the global struggle against
the neoliberal order. So my story about water got bigger and bigger. Then I
had to bring it down to the personal level, to develop characters who could
play out the complexities of this political period. Thats where the lead
character, exshop steward revolutionary, Monwabisi Radebe, was born, along
with his tension-filled marriage to Constantia.
AM: Can you say a little about the setting of the Eastern Cape and the
service delivery protest?
JK: I chose the Eastern Cape simply because it was the real heartland of the
ruling party, the home of Madiba, Govan Mbeki and so many others. It was
more symbolic than an attempt to portray the deepest details of the Eastern
Cape. In reality, this story could have taken place in almost any part of
South Africa. Service delivery protests are everywhere. People still have
not reached the promised land of the RDP.
AM: What and whom are your major influences as a writer of political
JK: My models are somewhat little known these days: B. Traven and Victor
Serge. Traven was a German fugitive who lived out his life in Mexico and
wrote a series known as the jungle novels. They told the story of the rise
and fall of the Mexican Revolution. Serge was a Bolshevik who became
disenchanted with the Soviet Union. He spent time as a political prisoner in
France and the Soviet Union and wrote most of his fiction while
incarcerated. Many of his manuscripts were destroyed by the authorities but
his masterpiece, The Case of Comrade Tulayev, provides us with a shining
sample of his potential and insight. Many others are important for me as
well, African writers like Ngugi wa Thiongo and Sembène Ousmane. And Im a
big fan of less political authors like Zora Neale Hurston, Zadie Smith, Dave
Eggers and Armistead Maupin, who have such great insight into issues of race
AM: In your latest novel you seem to sketch some very convincing characters
and believable scenarios to what extent is your distance from the
situation helpful on the one hand and a disadvantage on the other?
JK: I dont think distance helped at all. I spent hours and hours trying to
think myself back into South Africa, back into the times and situations I
experienced, trying to remember sights, smells, peoples sense of humor and
irony, the rhythms of their speech. I believe I could have written a better
book if I had been able to go to South Africa and write it, but I couldnt.
I was in prison. I had to try to compensate by being meticulous with the
things I could research, the details of the political context.
AM: While your novel exposes the bitter betrayals and collusion between a
new, deeply flawed political elite and multinationals, it also tells the
story of a rebirth of grassroots activism. Can you say a little about this?
JK: Thats what the title is all about freedom never rests. Freedom is
something that changes over time. Its not a static concept. Elections, for
example, seem to be the ultimate victory for the freedom struggle, but after
awhile, they lose their power. Electing people who genuinely serve the
popular interest becomes harder and harder. So Im trying to probe how
complicated this struggle for democracy really is and yet despite such
complications people like my lead character, Monwabisi Radebe, remain true
to their ideals. Still while he was a man of principle, Monwabisi couldnt
quite figure out how to be effective in the new order. Should he remain true
to the party? Should he help others who want to forge an alternative? Or
should he just try to do the best he can for his wife and family? Very
difficult questions which confronted and continue to confront everyone who
sincerely believes in the importance of a democracy that includes economic
justice and grassroots political power.
AM: I would describe both as optimistic works, which is different from a lot
of the angst ridden political fiction coming out of South Africa at present.
How much SA fiction do you read and did you deliberately set out to give
your work an optimistic spin?
JK: I guess I remain an optimist. Ive lived through three failed
revolutions the US social movements in the sixties and seventies,
Zimbabwe in the eighties, and South Africa post-1994 (which we can call a
success in some way at the political level but definitely a failure as a
revolutionary project ). I still maintain belief in the old adage every
cook can govern, belief in the power of workers, rural people, the povho
to eventually create a society different from anything weve experienced to
I read J.M. Coetzees Disgrace when I was in prison and it made me very
angry. Hes a great writer in terms of all the elements of the craft
character, the power of his language and all that. I could never pretend to
have his level of skill. But I asked myself: Why, out of all the tragedies
of the South African situation, did he have to pick the alienation of a
white academic to try to explain what happened post-1994? This US writing
guru John Gardner, who is fairly moderate in many ways, once said that the
task of the genuine fiction writer is to tackle the big questions of the
day, the questions that are vital to society. Coetzee ran away from this.
I did try to tackle some of these big questions in Freedom Never Rests. For
me those were things like: What form does democracy take? How must people
organise themselves in order to reverse the inequality and racism of
apartheid? Will elections suffice? Will a TRC suffice? Will a traditional
political party be enough to carry out a fully fledged transition to
democracy? And, in the era of neoliberalism, how can workers and poor people
fight back? These are big questions that people in their daily lives are
grappling with as they try to gain access to basic necessities that the rich
and powerful have no interest in providing. So I have an optimistic slant in
that I try to show people constantly engaging with these questions. But Im
also not trying to pretend that there are easy answers or formulas we can
apply. And my characters, even the ones I love, like Monwabisi, Florence
Matshaka and Mama Mehlo, dont live happily ever after. But as they used to
say in the black freedom struggle in the US, they keep on keepin on.
AM: How much writing did you do in prison?
JK: A lot. I came out with manuscripts of eight novels. Some handwritten,
some written on typewriters. I also wrote a screenplay of my first novel, a
few dozen poems and a couple dozen short stories. Ive been out for two and
a half years and Im still ploughing through that material and trying to get
more of it ready. My third novel, which is a murder mystery, involving the
killing of an undocumented Zimbabwean woman in California, features a
crime-solving team which includes some white ex-prisoners and a black South
African woman. The characters bring together different strands of my own
life and speak to the potentials for solidarity amongst the marginalised in
AM: Whats your take on the Occupy Wall Street protests?
JK: They are a wonderful breath of fresh air in that they have raised the
issue of economic and social inequality in the US and around the world in a
way that nothing has done in a long time. I admire the occupiers, despite
the limitations of their movement in terms of class and race.
On 3/6/2012 7:03 PM, Patrick Bond wrote:
(This is a really great radical fiction-yet-nonfictional read!)
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: James Kilgore's 2nd Novel-Freedom Never Rests Now available
in the U.S.
Date: Tue, 6 Mar 2012 10:15:16 -0600
From: James Kilgore <mailto:jjincu at gmail.com> <jjincu at gmail.com>
My second novel, Freedom Never Rests, is now available in the U.S. via
Barnes and Noble and Amazon. It is a tale of the struggle for change in
post-1994 South Africa, centered around the efforts of former shop steward
revolutionary, Monwabisi Radebe, to help his rural Eastern Cape community of
Sivuyile gain access to the most basic of necessities: water.
You can order the book from either Barnes and Noble or Amazon.
I hope you enjoy the read.
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