[Reading] ➷ Tales of the Metric System By Imraan Coovadia – Royalweddingnews.co.uk

Tales of the Metric System chapter 1 Tales of the Metric System , meaning Tales of the Metric System , genre Tales of the Metric System , book cover Tales of the Metric System , flies Tales of the Metric System , Tales of the Metric System 6ba70d542dad1 From A Natal Boarding School In The Seventies And Soviet Spies In London In The Eighties To The Rugby World Cup And Intrigue In The Union Buildings, Tales Of The Metric System Shows How Ten Days Spread Across Four Decades Send Tidal Waves Through The Lives Of Ordinary And Extraordinary South Africans Alike An Unforgettable Cast Of Characters Includes Ann, Who Is Trying To Protect Her Husband And Son In , And Victor, Whose Search For A Missing Document In Will Change His Life Forever Rock Guitarist Yash Takes His Boy To The Beach On Boxing Day In To Meet His Revolutionary Cousin, While Shanti, His Granddaughter, Loses Her Cellphone And Falls In Love Twice On A Lucky Afternoon In Playwrights, Politicians, Philosophers, And Thieves, All Caught In Their Individual Stories, Burst From The Pages Of Imraan Coovadia S Tales Of The Metric System As It Measures South Africa S Modern History In Its Own Remarkable Units Of Imagination Simple In Concept, Complex In Construction, A Novel Which Is So Much Than The Sum Of Its Parts, One Which Purports To Examine The Randomness Of Life While Delicately Drawing The Eye To The Butterfly Effect Of Individual Acts And Exposing The Interconnected Ness Of People In Pristine Prose And With A Telling Eye For Detail, Tales Of The Metric System Leaves The Reader With A Sense Of Having Undertaken A Journey Through The Familiar Only To Arrive Somewhere Completely New Aminatta Forna, Author Of The Memory Of Love

10 thoughts on “Tales of the Metric System

  1. says:

    Tales of the Metric System is based on a simple idea Take 10 days in the life of South Africa spread over the last four decades and tell a personal story that played out on each of the days.But Imraan Coovadia takes that basic structure and weaves a much complex web For one thing the same lives float in and out of stories, the characters changed by the years, shedding their skin to resurface in roles with diminishing moral clarity For another, there is a larger binding story that ties them all together.That larger story, until now almost exclusively the preserve non fiction, is of how people connected to the struggle through a spouse assassinated by the system, through the underground in London or through the anti apartheid arts are transformed from outsiders to insiders, sometimes losing their way.More effectively than any political tract, Coovadia quietly and subtly probes the struggle ideologies of liberalism, black consciousness and non racialism You feel his presence behind the prose, watching you with eyes that are at once amused, mocking and empathetic.We are introduced to a white academic who starts a Free University for activists who lives one step away from the closing net of the system and who ultimately pays a heavy price.But even as we warm to the rightness of his cause, our certainty is weakened by the black consciousness activist, Satya, brought to life with Coovadia s unerring prose His hair, in the bulk of its majesty was unsteady around his head It trembled like Kastoori s type of jelly.In Satya s world, the Free University is not to be embraced Biko would say its an institutional disease for white people in this country They want to speak on behalf of others Even when they are with you, they want to speak in your place Coovadia s characters swim in and out of fiction, sometimes coming into focus as well known icons of the struggle The charming pipe smoking activist hanging out in London in the 1980s could only be Thabo Mbeki There are several such partially biographical figures that appear in cameo, suddenly bringing the story into the real world only to recede as the fiction takes over once .In London s Soviet embassy in 1985 we meet the drunken Gerasimov who becomes the unlikely revealer of Coovadia s purpose I believe, Sebastian, that novels are important than ever They are important than video recorders and record players and television because they enable us to exercise our minds They allow us to step back and see where the history is taking us This stepping back to see where history is exactly what Tales of the Metric System does But this is not a proselytising pamphlet Coovadia does not preach so much as present for our observation the world of politics and its players each tragically convinced of their correctness.When power shifts after 1994, the outsiders find themselves on the inside We are taken to a box at Ellis Park where the rugby World Cup final is being played in 1995 Now one of the anti apartheid activists from the London vignette, Farhad, is in power and telling his businessman friend There are big contracts at stake, army, navy, atomic power stations Who would have thought, ten years ago, that we would be standing here at Ellis Park, in our own private area, and talking about submarines There is the figure of Sparks Mandela and Mbeki s spokesman Parks Mankahlana comes immediately to mind who finds himself in hospital dying of Aids, but not allowed anti retrovirals because of the president s belief that they were killers When the foreign doctor, Gerhard, assigned to treat him by the president, is questioned by another, he says We have our instructions to avoid poisoning him with anti retrovirals Within those parameters, within those conditions that have been set by the patient, let us try to be responsible physicians The phrase only following orders comes to mind It is the book s darkest chapter and Coovadia s commentary is a cold indictment When the elections had happened, people anticipated a flood of new investment from overseas, money form the car companies, new technologies, trade routes Instead it had been the coffin makers and traditional healers, funeral parlour masters and graveyard priests, who did a roaring trade Business was almost too good With its elegant prose and its ruthless determination to lead you to the truth, Tales of the Metric System is about as good a book as you are likely to read on the transition from struggle to power.

  2. says:

    Writing classes warn aspirant writers not to string short stories together in the hope that they end up with a novel Imraan Coovadia, ironically, heads up the creative writing programme at the University of Cape Town in South Africa Not because it is an easy way out, but rather because it is one of the most difficult things a good writer can do successfully, I think.The linkages can be obscure, as in A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks, which seems to run contrary to the very idea of a novel, to the intricacies of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, where the linkages are intricately, and cleverly, subsumed into the very warp and weft of the novel itself.Then you get a novel like Tales of the Metric System, a highly sophisticated iteration of the concept, the structural cleverness of which tends to detract from the emotional heart of the novel That the cover flap is used to explain the basic narrative structure ten days spread across four decades in South African history reveals how difficult an approach Coovadia has chosen.While the reader intrinsically understands the concept of the various decades, the notion of narrative time is so underplayed that it threatens to trivialise Coovadia s approach, to the extent that the different chapters seem like historical flashcards containing brief notes for much longer stories.Where this novel succeeds so brilliantly though and it is an overall success that overshadows the main difficulty with narrative time is its approach to South African history Instead of dealing with the main touch points that we know so well, from the Soweto riots of 1976 to the World Cup of 2010, from the unveiled horrors of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the equally horrific consequences of Thabo Mbeki s denial of HIV Aids, Coovadia s stories take place in the dark cracks of history.Here we have stories of ordinary people who are quite unaware they are living in a historical moment a moment that will become embalmed in history, leaving us bereft of the specificity of that moment as lived in time It is Coovadia s ambitious aim here to recreate some of that specificity, which is apparent from the Paul Kruger quote at the beginning I set forth how I viewed the history of my people in the light of God s Word I began by addressing my hearers People of the Lord, you old people of the country, you newcomers, yes, even you thieves and murderers What makes this novel so fascinating is that the South African reader, so steeped in the mythology of the recent past, is acutely aware of those great historic heartbeats, even if the characters are not, who are so wrapped up in the quotidian reckoning of everyday life In a sense what Coovadia does here is to breathe life into the stuffed old corpse of history, so riddled with patched up repairs and erosions.And then, Coovadia ends this great novel about the re construction of personal and political history with his text s own historical moment, which switches effortlessly back from the penultimate chapter about the 2010 World Cup to 1976, to the moment when the liberal academic Dr Neil Hunter is assassinated, leaving us with his reflections on a perfect society In an ideal society there would be no separation of types No groundsman No permanent professor No student who wasn t at the same time a teacher and a researcher and a manual labourer, someone who worked with his hands and his heart Spellings would be standard Quantities would be decimal In an ideal society there would be no form of currency, frozen or stolen labour standing over succeeding generations, no inheritance, salaries, or dividends There would be no form of competition Every man and woman free to find a place in the sun.

  3. says:

    For someone like me who knows very little about South African history, culture and politics, this book is hard work Dozens of characters with mysterious motivations and perplexing limitations on their freedom.It is intricately constructed and interestingly written, and, with extra help from google, my knowledge of South Africa has definitely improved.But what was with the weird narration switches between third and second person Disconcerting every time, especially when I felt so distant from the characters that it was impossible to be inside their head.

  4. says:

    Somewhere between epic and miniature, Imraan Coovadia s Tale s of the Metric system covers forty years of South African history but does it in intimate portraits of 10 days spread out from 1970 when an activist professor is essentially being blackmailed to 1973 when a young black man loses the pass he needs to 2010 when South Africa triumphantly hosts the World Cup followed by what is essentially an epilogue set in 1976 The 10 stories all function independently but some characters or their children reoccur They are all like intricately descried snapshots rather than a multigenerational saga, although the snapshots reveal bits of the multigenerational saga A really original and outstanding contribution that, unfortunately, is currently only available in South Africa.

  5. says:

    Tales of the Metric System Imraan CoovadiaSpeaking TigerRs 499 The book covers a world of breaking borders through a series of interlinked short stories well interlinked may be too broad a categorisation because very often the links are faint And the events cover a few hours or perhaps days spanning 1971 and 2010 At first it seems like a series of violent shards until one connects the links The episodes cover public school life, the edgy relations between blacks and whites and the in between lives of the Indian entrepreneurs struggling to find a new identity as the old order changes Coovadia uses the changeover to the metric system as a metaphor for life He covers a wide cast of characters, Neil the teachers who opens a free university and upsets the established system resulting in his stepson being expelled Shabangu the light fingered caretaker of the Caledonian Christian Men s Hostel and his prot g e Victor who wants to act with a white troupe against the established rules and Sanjay who latches onto his rich uncle after his father dies Coovadia s book is set in the 1970 s when South Africa began to awaken into a new sense of political consciousness after the strictures of the 1960 s, post Mandela s being set free The issues dealt with are the issues of behaviour, how to measures distances between the races, how to chart out behavioural patterns in different circumstances especially if you are aware that the Special Branch is keeping an eye on you Everyone is connected to someone who may be related to Big Brother In Coovadia s world, someone is certainly watching you and that crops up in one way or another throughout the stories.Of the women Ann is the one who makes the strongest impact, having through her life joined an English heritage to sturdy Afrikaner stock through her husbands Though when she progresses to Neil she seems to be uncertain about her sense of identity The others, Parveen and Kastoori are just descriptions without being actually fleshed out given the fact that they recur in scenarios to which we have no real backdrop, though the episodes are complete in themselves.What makes the work even unusual is the fact that there are no boundaries between fiction and nonfiction as there are no divisions between the personal and the public If you flip through the pages you will discover that there is no disclaimer about the characters being entirely fictional though not many people will do that unless it is pointed out to them This is because in many cases they are composites of existing people For example, Neil Hunter who is the subject of the first and last stories has a counterpart in real life, the academic Rick Turner who was assassinated in 1978 Hunter s assassination is in fact foretold early on in the novel so that by the time we reach the end of the book it has a sense of d j vu to it.Coovadia uses fiction to allow him to step back from history and take a long look at where this world is going having moved onto a new system of operation.1976, a story set over a day acknowledges a turning point in South Africa s history that was the year in which television came to the country Again, this is a fact that would only be apparent to those interested in the politics of apartheid and its backlash.Death occurs violently from neglect, assassination and necklacing all of them the result of a wrong viewpoint with no one willing to admit that they were mistaken in the sentencing that they pronounced People disappear and questions ferment in silence without being brought up into the open Tales of the Metric System for the most part maintains a simmering undercurrent which keeps up the tension without being overtly confrontational and Coovadia s language makes it an easy vivid read.

  6. says:

    This is a fascinating novel, exceptionally well crafted For the longest time I thought that to call it a novel was a cagily purposeful misnomer It seemed like a mere collection of short stories, all set in South Africa from the year 1970 onward the period in which the metric system took hold in the country Midway through the book, however, the protagonist from the first story, a woman named Ann Rabie, suddenly appears in another story, this one set in London in 1985 and featuring a whole milieu of exiled South Africans, both white and black Ann has gotten older and her life has changed drastically her second husband, a white professor and anti apartheid activist, has been murdered the South African government has done nothing about catching and punishing his killers she, meanwhile, has become an activist herself, working for a leading, if exiled, political figure in London From this point on, characters from previous stories begin to reappear regularly, even frequently, in the novel The book still is structured as a series of stand alone stories and they do stand alone but the connections, sometimes intimate connections, between the characters becomes and apparent, just as in the manner of any novel And the reader realizes that Coovadia has hit upon a resoundingly effective way to transmit the recent history of his home country by focusing on the changing lives and loves of a select group of people, seeing how those lives change as fundamental changes are enacted in South Africa Indeed, as the stories that make up the novel hop, chapter by chapter, ahead in time, Coovadia manages to reenact, through the vantage point of his characters, some crucial episodes in recent history e.g., the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the mid 1990s, the controversy over President Mbeki s refusal to allow the use of anti retrovirals in the treatment of AIDS, and the 2010 World Cup, which South Africa hosted Important to realize, though By no means does this book read like a history text It is novel, and a brilliantly realized one Also, a refreshingly surprising one In nearly every chapter story I thought I knew where that chapter story was going, until it went somewhere else And this is true, right up to the very last story A fine fine book, very much worth reading, especially if you need some refreshing on the history and culture of South Africa.

  7. says:

    Absolutely brilliant, although I think the book would have been richer and better written without 1995 and 2010, which did not live up to the other chapters.

  8. says:

    This book was featured in the Nota Benes section of the Sept Oct 2016 issue of World Literature Today Magazine.

  9. says:

    This book was very interesting It provided some perspectives on Apartheid that aren t normally available It s worth a read

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