Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Paradise by Greg Lazarus

Title: Paradise
Author: Greg Lazarus
Publisher: Kwela Books, 2014

Expect the unexpected – that is the only advice I can offer readers who pick up a Greg Lazarus offering. For those who don’t know, Greg Lazarus is the pen name for Cape town-based writing duo Greg Fried and Lisa Lazarus.

Paradise, to put it mildly, is one helluva quirky story – there’s no other way to describe it – and though the plot itself is loosely structured, there is more focus on the characters, all of whom have a more than healthy dose of oddness in their makeup.

Maja is a thief, and has been since a young age, when she and her father collaborated as art thieves. She is now in Cape Town, tasked with stealing a sculpture from an eccentric, philosophising Avram Tversky. Only the theft won’t be easy, because Maja has to work around the socially awkward building manager Hershel Bloch, who has only recently discovered that he has an adult daughter – Surita Adam. And Surita has her own issues, keeping people at arm’s length while being just that little bit hard on herself with regard to her aspirations in competitive judo.

At a glance, it seems impossible that this disparate collection of characters might somehow hang together to participate in a coherent story, but that is the beauty of Paradise.

Though each character has his or her path to walk – and each must face up to some aspect of their selves and others before we reach the conclusion – each has their moment that brings them to a crystallisation of the issues that have been ignored up until that point. Each key character is trapped in a maze of their on devising: Maja must learn to let go of her brother Carel, whom she has carried for a long time; Hershel needs to face up to the fact that he is a terrible building manager, and perhaps it is time that he devotes himself to his passion – if he can find it; Surita needs to take that leap of faith to admit that her present path is untenable, and let down her guard, both emotionally and physically; and Avram exists on the periphery, as part father figure who, at the end of his life, is able to offer his own brand of acerbic advice.

Capetonians will be on familiar turf, as the authors capture the essence of our Mother City’s inhabitants’ vibe, with lashings of absurdity, such as the animal activist antics that occur near the end, or in the oddly apt historical letters peppered throughout the narrative. Paradise is tactile and textured, and though not all the characters are equally likeable, there are many layers to peel back at your leisure. The ending might not bring full closure, but you’ll get to know some souls for whom you’ll cheer as they take those first steps into unknown territory.

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