Readersforum's Blog

February 10, 2013

A Page in the Life: Rian Malan

LionJustin Cartwright meets Rian Malan, journalist, contrarian and thorn in South Africa’s side.

Not so long ago I shared a platform with Rian Malan at a literary festival, and we were asked about literary success. Malan said: “Don’t ask me, I am a one-hit wonder.” As he approaches 60, Malan is both burdened and blessed by the fact that nearly 25 years ago he wrote the astonishing My Traitor’s Heart, a memoir of his life as a young Afrikaner South African, and a book like no other to come out of the cramped literary world of South Africa. It was a worldwide success but he has not written another book since. Instead, he has been a prolific journalist and a vigorous and fearless contrarian.

I have some problems connecting with him. I am in Cape Town and he is in Johannesburg. His phone message is a rant about the cost of local calls, and it says he will only accept texts. He calls eventually and says he will be in Cape Town, laments the fact that I no longer drink and suggests we take a large spliff and walk in the mountains in lieu of a conventional interview.

But there is a problem: he fails to appear. I hear rumours of a riotous wedding reception, at which his band was playing, that ended with Malan sacking his violinist on stage, sleeping overnight in his car and forsaking music for ever.

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