Meg Rosoff recommends Sylvester Stein’s “Second-Class Taxi”

November 14th, 2009

Meg Rosoff, award-winning author of such novels as How I Live Now, What I Was, and The Bride’s Farewell, wrote to recommend Sylvester Stein’s novel of life in South Africa under apartheid, Second Class Taxi:
Cover

Published by Faber in 1958, it was banned in South Africa for twenty years. The audacity of a white man writing in the character of a dispossessed black South African only works because the voice is so hilarious and tragic and true; as editor of Drum Magazine, an important figure in the early days of the anti-apartheid movement and a supporting member of the ANC, Stein had a unique perspective on the absurd world he describes. It’s a wonderful book.

Banned in South Africa, out of print for most of the last fifty years, Second Class Taxi is now available “in a brilliant new staple-bound A4 format” from the one-title Nononsense Press. It tells the story of Staffnurse Phofolo, a “non-person” who lives in a drain-pipe, hangs out in illegal bars (shebeens), participates in protests, and generally lives outside officially-sanctioned society. While savaging the practices of the South African government, Stein maintained a sly, gently-mocking tone akin to Hasek’s in The Good Soldier Svejk. Stein left South Africa in the late 1950s when state censorship made editing the integrated magazine a near-suicidal endeavor, taking with him the manuscript of this novel.

Stein’s most recent book, Who Killed Mr. Drum? (2003), is still in print from Corvo Books.

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