Reviews: When We Were Wicked

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Photo of book cover of The Tin Heart Gold Mine

Review by Michael Holman, 2021

Dear Ruth,

I have made it a rule not to review books by friends but every now and then, rules may be broken... And so I am writing what is a cross between a review of When We Were Wicked and a letter to the author. You are welcome to do with it what you will.

The short story that led to my breaking my rule was "Not in Front of the Children: a memoir". What struck me was the lean style which gave it an authenticity, helped by your acute and sensitive selection of detail - such as your mother 'winding the windows until they were almost shut.' The sparseness of your prose also strikes me as the product of years of writing, shaping and moulding words and phrases, and mastering that art called 'writing'.

"Useful Martyrs" is another example of the way your style has changed over the years as you have learned the trade we share. It also strikes me that you are your best when you are at your most personal — dealing with your experience of living in a brutal, sexist and racist society.

Your experience, rich and varied, shines through. But you have set yourself a Sisyphean task. No sooner than you have rolled the boulder of your experience to the top of the kopje than you discover new insights on the journey, and have to start all over again. You are both burdened and blessed by your rich and varied background. Writing is an itch one just has to scratch. In other words, keep rolling that boulder.

Michael Holman
Africa Editor, Financial Times 1984–2002
Author of:
  • Postmark Africa: Half a century as a Foreign Correspondent, EnvelopeBooks 2020
  • Last Orders at Harrods, Polygon 2005
  • Fatboy and the Dancing Ladies, Polygon 2007
  • Dizzy Worms, Polygon, 2010

Maupassant meets Out of Africa

Review by Anna Pitt, United Kingdom, 13 June 2021 (first published on Amazon)

I'd forgotten how much I love short stories. Perfect for busy times, for snatching a bit if 'me time'. I think it is best not to say too much about the underlying theme of wickedness, as you need to read with an open mind and see what comes to mind. Like all brilliant short stories, it is the intricate details that really make them. You will be transported to Africa when you read them. They are all slightly haunting and hidden feelings and messages are very relatable.

The beautifully crafted short stories are book-ended with some authentic autobiography - of my favourite kind - a little sketchy, no filling in of the gaps that memory always creates, giving it that raw quality, that really makes it feel like a privileged insight.

Maupassant rencontre Out of Africa

Commentaire de Anna Pitt, Royaume-Uni, 13 juin 2021 (première publication sur Amazon)

J'avais oublié à quel point j'aimais les histoires courtes. Elles sont parfaites pour les périodes chargées, pour s'accorder un peu de "temps pour soi". Je pense qu'il est préférable de ne pas trop en dire sur le thème sous-jacent de la méchanceté, car il faut lire avec un esprit ouvert et voir ce qui vient à l'esprit. Comme toutes les nouvelles brillantes, ce sont les détails complexes qui les rendent vraiment uniques. Vous serez transporté en Afrique lorsque vous les lirez. Elles sont toutes légèrement obsédantes et il est facile de s'identifier à leurs sentiments et messages cachés.

Les nouvelles, magnifiquement conçues, sont prises en sandwich entre des autobiographies authentiques - de mon genre préféré - un peu sommaires, ne comblant pas les lacunes que la mémoire crée toujours, ce qui leur donne cette qualité brute, qui donne vraiment l'impression d'un aperçu privilégié.

Muli Bwanji – Safari is Ready

Review by Patricia Wilson, United Kingdom, 14 September 2021

I love to sit down with a morning coffee and read a good short story. So this was the perfect book for me that often made me laugh and cry at the same time. On a dreary winter morning it was a delight to be transported back to the sunshine of South Africa with all its sights and sounds. I enjoyed the mix of skilfully written descriptive stories which made the people come alive and the poignancy of the autobiography. It was a pleasure to read.

Trisha

Fact and fiction blend seamlessly

Review by Geoff Bell, United Kingdom, 17 September 2021

Dear Ruth

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading “When We Were Wicked”.

It is a fascinating collection of short stories where fact and fiction blend seamlessly to give an insight into life in Southern Africa in troubled times. Each story is a revealing snapshot of moments in the lives of both black and white and their inter-relationships.

Education and entertainment under one cover, thank you and well done.

Geoff

Lovely honest and energetic stories rooted in a childhood in Africa

Review by Marie Howie, United Kingdom, 17 September 2021 (first published on Amazon)

As a child who grew up in Uganda and lived all over the place until age 21, in houses in Uganda, England and Scotland, always on the move, I loved these stories, as Ruth grows up and discovers through these story pages herself. Colourful and so resonant of my own childhood, as Ruth explains in a matter-of-fact way how it was, with the confusion of values and the sheer fun and practicality of surviving. Sometimes sensing danger but crafting survival skills as a way of living.

A very enjoyable read — short stories — each one of its own, and yet a common thread to be discovered. I cried and I laughed (and there is much more to be written). Such straight language without pretension.

2 Comments on “Reviews: When We Were Wicked”

  1. Geoffrey Bell

    Dear Ruth

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading “When We Were Wicked”.
    It is a fascinating collection of short stories where fact and fiction blend seamlessly to give an insight into life in Southern Africa in troubled times. Each story is a revealing snapshot of moments in the lives of both black and white and their inter-relationships.
    Education and entertainment under one cover, thank you and well done.

    Geoff

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Hi Geoff – thank you very much for your comment and for posting a review of my book, When We Were Wicked on Amazon. It does really help writers when readers write comments and review books – yours
      Ruth

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