The Alphabet of Birds
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? And when the words we know prove inadequate, can we turn to the language of birds?
In an arty mansion in Milan’s industrial zone, two men are shown one of the last remaining Futurist noise machines – an Intonarumore – and a painful old truth surfaces. A musician travels to three continents to see her siblings before returning to Johannesburg; her home is plundered every night around her as she composes a requiem. A man follows his male lover from London to Berlin’s clubbing scene and on to a ruined castle in which the lover’s family lives. He is looking for an antidote.
The protagonists in SJ Naudé’s South African Literary Award-winning short story collection are listening out for answers that cannot be expressed. Offering fresh perspectives on gay, expat and artistic subcultures and tackling the pain of loss head on, Naudé’s stories go fearlessly and tenderly to the heart of our experiences of desire, love and death.Read an Excerpt
- The Afrikaans version of The Alphabet of Birds was awarded several prizes, including the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize and the First-time Published Author Award (South African Literary Award). He was awarded the 2014 Jan Rabie & Marjorie Wallace Writing Scholarship, the largest award for creative writing in South Africa.
- Longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Prize 2015.
- Read on our Ampersand blog why our publisher Stefan Tobler loves The Alphabet of Birds.
- Richard Lea writes in The Guardian about new trends in short story writing, focusing on SJ Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds as well as Colin Barrett’s Young Skins and Eliza Robertson’s Wallflowers. See also Richard Lea’s Guardian Books podcast interview with Naudé (from 23 min.s 30 sec.s in)
- S.J. Naudé reads from The Alphabet of Birds and discusses the Afrikaans language among young South Africans in the new South Africa in the excellent BBC Radio 4 series ‘Writing a New South Africa’ (at 18:38). He writes for PEN Atlas here on the experience of translating yourself and in In Asymptote Journal he reflects on the odd literary status of Afrikaans and talks about Afrikaans literature today – read it here.
- If you had subscribed to And Other Stories before The Alphabet of Birds went to the printers, you would have received one of the first copies of the book – in which all subscribers are thanked by name – as well as up to five And Other Stories titles per year. Find out about subscribing to upcoming titles here.
'Cool and intelligent, unsettling and deeply felt, Naudé’s voice is something new in South African writing.’
‘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.’
‘The connections between the pieces are resonant, and they gradually reveal themselves as a set of variations on themes, making for an unusually tight-knit and satisfying volume. Naudé’s debut was acclaimed in the Afrikaans literary world, marking the arrival of a questioning, cosmopolitan writer. This English translation will bring him the wider readership he deserves.’
‘The astonishingly diverse stories in SJ Naudé’s 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; and the places and shapes of love in human relationships.’
Marlene van Niekerk
‘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.’
‘Beautifully shaped and often heartbreaking stories . . . At once unsettling and deeply moving, this collection announces the arrival of a writer of great humanity and style.’