By Chris Marais
Have you heard about my new book of tales called The Journey Man?
The one about the bumbling South African reporter who keeps getting it wrong until he finally gets it right?
He’s working out of the Karoo these days. Some say he’s living in a dusty old bakkie somewhere deep in the desert scrublands. Others say he’s gone madder than a meerkat on meth.
Truth is, he (that’s me) is happier than a lark in his new digs (eight years is a blink of an eye in these parts) with his wife of 17 years, Julienne. They’re in Cradock and yes, often to be seen tooling around the Dry Quarter of South Africa in a dusty pickup truck called Karoo Space.
We’ve published a lot of books on the Karoo, but my latest solo effort is all about a working youth in the 1970 to 1990 era in SA, his time with the naughty Scope Magazine and the celebrated Rand Daily Mail.
But before you rush off and order this new book, take a look at what these people have to say about it. And then rush off and order it…
If you lived in South Africa in the 1970s, 80s or 90s you will want to read Chris Marais’ book, The Journey Man.
Even if you didn’t, or were elsewhere, you still should read it, as it is a fascinating, gritty look at the underbelly of a little spot on the globe that had the attention of the world, fiercely focused upon it for almost 20 years.
During that time Marais worked as a journalist for amongst other publications, The Pretoria News, Rand Daily Mail and Living Africa and perhaps, most famous of all, South Africa’s notorious titty magazine, Scope.
Along the way, he interviewed, collected and worked with a motley crew of eccentrics, crazies, misfits and some of the best journalists and photographers the world has ever seen. These included a number of Pulitzer prize-winners…
Throughout his career he cavorted (figuratively) with prostitutes, drug dealers, strippers, transvestites, cops, rock stars, actresses and anyone else he found interesting.
The Journey Man is an easy-reading rock-and-roll account of the tales that took Marais into some of the seediest parts of South Africa but also to all corners of the earth.
You will remember some of the stories he covered and, even if you don’t, you’ll come away with wonderful insight into life in the shadows, when a faraway corner of Africa changed and the world watched.
The Journey Man jogs the most jaded of memories. Thanks to Chris Marais, I flash back to a younger time when the bedazzlements of strobe lights and Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff throbbed through the speakers of The Grand Wazoo in Pretoria. Marais’ memory of that bastion of sophistication and everything hitherto forbidden, is more prosaic.
Someone calls the club from the newsroom of the Pretoria News. “Hello, is that the Grand Wazoo?”
“No I’m just the cleaner” comes the response.
The hilarious Marais is a consummate narrator, freshening up familiar territory with his philosophical, gossipy, and always entertaining prose.
Who doesn’t remember Hillbrow in the early 80s? Who didn’t drink coffee and play backgammon at Café Wien? Who didn’t browse through Hillbrow Records, Estoril Books, explore the flea market in the basement on Pretoria Street or buy a brown chicken from Fontana at 3am?
Marais has a way of writing that wraps a friendly arm of prose around your shoulders and draws you into the action.
Combining memoir, satire, confession, and humility, Marais, ever the literary showman, tells it like it is without resorting to adjectival metaphor. Unless, of course, you count the journey as the leitmotif, since Marais takes you on a journey in both senses of the word.
The Journey Man is an event-filled travelogue that spans the Atlantic Ocean from San Francisco down to the Karoo, but it is also the mental journey of a young man learning about people, politics, and philosophy on his way to becoming a better journalist, and dare I say, human being.
Oh, who am I kidding? The Journey Man is boozy, druggy, bloke-ish fun, more a rush than a trip down memory lane that is in equal parts memoir, commentary, and derring-do adventure.
You’ll find yourself immersed when you really should be packing the dishwasher/responding to plaintive Pee Arse/filling in a tax return. It’s catnip for scribes so don’t say I didn’t warn you!