Avishkar Govender
Avishkar Govender

The Chilian Club: A book recommendation

Chilian ClubThe year was 2003, it was at the end of July and I was exploring the streets of lower Polokwane’s CBD in an attempt to map out the locations of every place that sold anything with a little chilli in it.

Apart from the real Vetkoek Paleis and a decent Halaal Diner, there was not much in the way of karou cuisine. And though there is no one word in English that means karou — it meaning all of spicy, tangy, pungent, peppery and a heap of other things in one — it is clear that being a porridge ou from Durban soeking a lamb curry with trimmings is a hazardous occupation in the former tribal Afrikaner homelands.

Apart from the fact that no-one seems to know what karou means (and how that is possible, I have no idea) everything — and this includes the Pakistani diner — was mild and drenched in a sickly sweet, synthetic, tomato-sauce based “chilli” sauce, which I find culturally offensive in the extreme.

In any event, it was on one such sojourn between my leafy upper suburb and the Zimbabweans trading below the taxi rank that I stumbled upon a second-hand furniture shop that also sold second-hand books. Naturally being the pedant that I am — in refusing to pass up the opportunity to buy books at lower prices — I dived headlong into the handful of books on offer, hoping for something worthwhile.

Now my being obsessed with chilli may have been the reason I picked up the book “The Chilian Club” but once I read the back cover I realised that fate had guided me to that book store. In a short, soft-cover novel a chap named George Shipway had dared to capture the essence of the crisis of the gentry in a unionised democracy.

Set during the Cold War with characters that had emerged from the fires of HM’s earlier colonial campaigns for country and crown, this “brass hat brigade” covertly proceeded to right the wrongs of a post-Second-World-War society that had reduced a once proud global empire into the proxy of countless foreign powers and I mean foreign in the sense of something that is not British or Irish.

In 2003, the parallels between this story and our own South African polity were clear but I had to wait six years to be able to see the direct correlation between the two.

I won’t go into details about the book, it is short enough to be read in one sitting and is no work of literary genius. It is simply entertaining and informative in a manner that is easy to follow and easy to read. If the Cold War genre interests you, be aware that there is little in the way of the KGB vs MI6 vs CIA storyline favoured by American writers in this genre.

Written in the third person, each chapter introduces a character engaged in fighting for Crown and country, albeit that their fight is unofficial and soon becomes the subject of a high-level, hush-hush investigation. For anyone who has an interest in British militaria, The Chilian Club, through its characters, provides an overview of the types of people who serve the public and the distinction between the soldiers of old and the bureaucrats of present.

You are bound to come across a few characters that remind you of our own history in Southern Africa, and indeed the history of our colonial struggle. Of course if you have lived in Durban and been raised and educated in the English colonial method, as all DHS old boys have, The Chilian Club is a statement of everything we were made to believe about our patriotic duty to serve our country and our people.

So if any of you have had any cause to swear anyone who is politicising the unionisation of public protest, then read The Chilian Club. It will assuredly entertain you and while I do not suggest or encourage you to do anything other than just read the book — certainly not to act out the missions — it will force you to question the method of conservatism and its “might is right and that’s the law” approach, while also force you to question the method of socio-nationalism and its “someone else must pay me for doing what I do badly” approach.

Nonetheless The Chilian Club is a fascinating read and you should read it if you can find it. It is listed on www.trashfiction.co.uk