Namibian born, South African raised and nowadays New Zealander Zirk van den Berg wrote his first stories at age 12. At 18, he managed to get a Kafkaesque love story published in a popular consumer magazine.
Early in his career, he wrote in Afrikaans, the Germanic language spoken by some 20 million people in Southern Africa. Though the language has only 6 million native speakers, it has a thriving literature.
His first book, a collection of rather literary short stories, appeared in 1989. Ekstra Dun vir Meer Gevoel (Extra Thin for More Feeling) was critically acclaimed and the stories were widely anthologised, among others in an authoritative overview of 100 years of Afrikaans short fiction.
Next came the historical novel Wydsbeen (Spread-Legged) based on a real, rather Quixotic, rebel in 17th Century South Africa.
Partway through writing what was to become his first novel in English, Nobody Dies, Zirk van den Berg immigrated to New Zealand. Random House published the book in 2004.
As Saul Bellow said, “A writer is a reader moved to emulation.” So we asked Zirk van den Berg to tell us about his favourite books. Here’s his response:
Crime: My favourite authors work at the fringes of the genre, with unusual literary qualities, e.g. Charles Willeford and K.C. Constantine. Among current writers, I enjoy the Brazilian Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza and Italy’s Andrea Camilleri.
Literature: I have a fondness for Continental writers, e.g. Nabokov, Dürrenmatt, Cees Nooteboom and Romain Gary. Gary’s King Solomon (under the pseudonym Emile Ajar), Nooteboom’s The Following Story and American Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian have been my favourite reads of the last ten years.
Espionage: Alan Furst’s atmospheric pre-war stories and Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, nothing sensational.
Science fiction: Kurt Vonnegut, William Gibson, Cordwainer Smith and, above all, Philip K. Dick. One commentator said Dick turned a circus tent into a cathedral. That seems like a worthwhile enterprise to me.