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Summer in South Africa
I grew up in Johannesburg, which is the largest city in South Africa, but not the capital. The city is a huge sprawl of suburbs and home to more than 10 million people. Geographically, Jo’burg rests at the top of the escarpment, almost 2km above sea level, in what locals call the ‘highveld.’ This means that every summer we can set our clocks by the thunderstorms. Come 5PM, the sky turns black and Jo’burg starts looking a lot like Mordor. Almost every storm results in torrential rain and epic lightning – did I mention Jo’burg has some of the most violent lightning in the world? And some storms yield golf-ball sized hail that leaves cars battered and windows shattered. Don’t ever plan an afternoon picnic in the Jo’burg summer.
It seems a ubiquitous summer tradition to barbecue, but in South Africa, the Sunday braai is nigh a holy ritual involving traditional sausage called boerewors, fruity meat kebabs we call sosaties, and a generous amount of local brew. Along with the meat and beer, we traditionally serve side dishes like potato salad and garlic bread. Of course everything tastes better when there’s a rugby match on and the Springboks are winning. Traditional dessert typically includes milk tart or malva pudding. Malva pudding is definitely my favourite South African dish. Nothing tastes as good as sweet, sticky malva drenched in vanilla custard.
While it might seem strange to some, a good many South Africans have a swimming pool in their backyards – or in the garden, as we’d say. I grew up in a large house on a half acre piece of land complete with a swimming pool and plenty of room to mark out a cricket pitch for family matches. As a kid, summer began the moment the pool water was warm enough to not turn you blue. Sometimes this happened as early as late August, sometimes it took until the middle of October for true summer to kick in. Given the hole in the ozone, we were never allowed to swim until after 3 in the afternoon and only once we’d been slathered in sun cream.
One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced after migrating north of my home country is that Christmas is no longer the hot, summer festival of my childhood, but a dark and freezing day to hibernate and gorge on rich foods. Although we tried to do a northern traditional Christmas replete with turkey, ham and all the trimmings, it seemed a bit ridiculous when outdoor temperatures were often in the thirties and a braai or lunch of cold meats and salad was preferable given the heat. Who wants to sit inside eating turkey when you can be outside swimming and stealing boerewors off the braai? Some of best childhood memories involve opening my presents Christmas morning, receiving new pool noodles or lilos, and heading straight into the water. Christmas was the one day my mom relented and let us swim all day – provided we were slathered head to toe in SPF 50.
In my book, The Other Me, the story starts after Christmas as my protagonists embark on the new school year, having to endure the sweltering heat of January and February in classrooms, on the cricket field or tennis courts. Inspired by my own high school experiences, I hope that The Other Me is able to provide readers unfamiliar with South Africa a taste of the country and culture that is so much a part of who I am.
“Fifteen-year-old Treasa Prescott thinks she’s an alien. She doesn’t fit in with the preppy South African private school crowd and feels claustrophobic in her own skin. Treasa is worried she might spend life as a social pariah when she meets Gabriel du Preez. Gabriel plays the piano better than Beethoven, has a black belt in karate, and would look good wearing a garbage bag. Treasa thinks he’s perfect. It might even be love, as long as Gabriel doesn’t find out she’s a freak.
As Treasa spends time with Gabriel, she realizes she might not love him as much as she wants to be him, and that the reason she feels uncomfortable in her skin might have less to do with extra-terrestrial origins and more to do with being born in the wrong body.
But Gabriel is not the perfect boy Treasa imagines. He harbors dark secrets and self-destructive tendencies. Still, Treasa might be able to accept Gabriel’s baggage if he can accept who she longs to be.”
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller and peanut butter addict from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and entertains her shiba inu, Lego. Her books include Obscura Burning, The Other Me, and the forthcoming I Heart Robot from Month9Books. Suzanne is rep’d by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.