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Jolyon Nuttall

Staging Post

Review: Roshiela Moonsamy

I thoroughly enjoyed this book by the late journalist and newspaper manager, Jolyon Nuttall.

The book is divided into three parts, with the first section being a collection of weekly airmail letters he sent home to his parents in Pietermaritzburg when, in 1961 at the age of 27, he gets sent by his newspaper company to its bureau in New York City to work as a foreign correspondent for a year.

While Jolyon admits he initially had little affinity with New York, he ends up having a fulfilling experience and making some good friends, including Lewis Nkosi, the late South African author who spent 30 years in exile after he left the country on an exit permit to take up a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.

Indeed the depravity of apartheid constantly rears its ugly head in Jolyon’s story.

Among the people he meets in New York is a Japanese woman named Misa Ban whom he falls deeply in love with.

Unfortunately, Jolyon would not have been able to bring Misa back to South Africa and get married due to the laws of apartheid.

Part two of the book deals with the agony he faced back in South Africa about having left Misa and how, in the end, he did not return to be with her.

Instead he settled down in South Africa, had a 49-year-long marriage to wife Jean, with two children, Sarah and James, and rose up in the newspaper world.

As a journalist, I found the stories of his career interesting.

On publishing newspapers during what Jolyon called the Sinister Eighties, as the apartheid state tightened its grip on the country, he writes: “Publishing a newspaper was likened to walking blindfold through a minefield and our attorneys were in constant demand.

“Our brief to them: provide advice that will take us as close to the edge of the precipice without falling over rather than a safe distance from it.”

He also recalls some of the heydays of newspapers when, by 1984, The Star newspaper in Johannesburg exceeded 200 000 sales a day and sold 247 305 copies on the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Jolyon also considers his own privilege.

“There is no question that, as a white South African, I was extremely privileged by my background,” he writes.

“Could black South Africans have enjoyed the same opportunities that opened for me in those years? No. It would not have been possible then although, thankfully, it is now. I lived in a chrysalis of whiteness. No matter that I worked my butt off. Others would have done the same, given the credentials and opportunities that I had.”

The third part of the book is made up of essays, including what is a tribute to his daughter, academic Sarah Nuttall, whom he was obviously very proud of, and of his time living in Kommetjie.

Jolyon died in August last year after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in October 2018 . He was 85 years old.

His twin brother, Michael, was the former Anglican Bishop of Natal.

This book is a wonderful keepsake. It is a richly detailed account of a life well lived, although through some turbulent times in this country’s history.

I would have liked to have met Jolyon.

We are extending the deadline for the competition to win a copy of Steven Boykey Sidley’s Leaving Word , which was reviewed in last week’s Read of the Week column.

If you tried to enter the competition last week but your email bounced back, please resend your entry to the same address, before midnight on Sunday April 5.