The Alphabet of Birds by SJ Naudé
(And Other Stories, 2015)

The Alphabet of Birds

by SJ Naudé

If death comes to a loved one, can we grieve alone? When all around is in ruins, can we confine our lives to one beautiful room constructed out of art, or love, or family ties? What is behind emotions and words?

A mother dying of cancer neglects her family and herself on a desperate mission to help AIDS sufferers; a musician travels to America, England and Dubai to see her stranded siblings before returning to her plundered home in Johannesburg; a man trails his gay lover through Berlin’s party scene looking for an antidote. Almost crushed by loss, everyone in these stories is searching for answers.

Awards

  • University of Johannesburg Debut Prize (winner)

Reviews

The astonishingly diverse stories in SJ Naudé remarkable collection The Alphabet of Birds count among the best in Afrikaans, built on recurring motifs and elements such as music; departure and travel; fairy tales and myths; illness, dissolution, dying and death; cities; a search for provenance and origins; forgetting and remembering; instinct and reason; that which is said or described versus that which remains unsaid or incapable of description forever; or the place and shapes of love in human relationships. For any reader who would like to keep up with what is happening at the forefront of Afrikaans literature, this collection is truly unmissable.”
- André Brink
Naudé’s tales are lyrical, but unsentimental and precisely focused on the essentials, dense with detail and references, but stripped of any excess … the collection creates an incisive portrait of the excitement and dislocation that are caused by modern man’s mobility in a global world … It is rare to find a debut with this degree of maturity and polish. Rush out to get your copy, but allow yourself the time to read it attentively. You will be richly rewarded. ”
- Louise Viljoen, Rapport
Makes any serious reader excited about the future of the short story in Afrikaans … strongly recommended. ”
- Cilliers van den Berg, Die Burger
Naudé controls the tone in a magnificent manner in all seven stories … it is as if, in the process of writing, he is giving texture to our increasingly strange planet. A new order has arrived, with its own laws of behaviour … This is fresh, calculated Afrikaans, and an equally fresh approach to things South African, somewhat similar to the approach to ‘the old days’ in the film 'District 9'. ”
- Eben Venter, Volksblad
Makes one truly excited about what else this author will produce … an extremely rewarding reading experience. ”
- Jacomien van Niekerk, Tydskrif vir letterkunde
Cool and intelligent, unsettling and deeply felt, Naudé’s voice is something new in South African writing. ”
- Damon Galgut
For the discerning reader the substantial stories in this collection provide a feast of rare originality and revelatory power. In exquisitely honed classical prose and with acute psychological insight Naudé shows how the social forces of our time bear upon the private lives of individuals. He is one of those rare South African writers who can subtly balance a relentless investigation of contemporary political conditions with an informed interest in the shape of mourning and desire in his characters.”
- Marlene van Niekerk
Here is the beginning of something extraordinary. Profound, complex, luminously written, and brilliantly orchestrated, SJ Naudé’s first collection establishes him indubitably as a writer who will reshape the contours of South African literature in years to come. ”
- Neel Mukherjee