Jeremy Boraine, publishing director of Jonathan Ball is interviewed about Jeremy Gordin's new biography of Jacob Zuma. He talks generally about the publishing landscape in South Africa as well as another title, The Arms Deal in Your Pocket by Paul Holden. He is speaking to David Ansara at Exclusive Books, Hyde Park before the official address by Blade Nzimande. (Wednesday, 10th December, 2008).
DA: We’re here with Jeremy Boraine, who is the publishing director of Jonathan Ball, which is publishing Zuma: A Biography by Jeremy Gordin. Tell us Mr. Boraine, how was the book conceived, what was the genesis of it?
JB: It was actually an idea that I had. I felt that Zuma was a very interesting character, he was in the spotlight as it were. And it appeared likely that he would rise to the top, there was a good chance of that. And so I cast around for an author. Jeremy Gordin was recommended to me by one of my other authors and I approached him and we discussed it. Jeremy seemed like the right person because he was active in writing political journalism and in particular he had followed some of the trials and tribulations of Jacob Zuma. So I guess that’s the genesis of the book.
DA: Well it seems long overdue, a biography on Jacob Zuma. Are there any revelations in the book, anything we don’t know about Mr. Zuma outside of the cut-and-thrust of the daily news articles?
JB: Well I think he has been well-covered in the newspapers so I don’t think… this isn’t a book that seeks to expose new secrets. I mean Zuma’s, you know, been well covered in that regard. I think what Jeremy has tried to do - Jeremy Gordin - has tried to do, […] and I think as the publisher we sort of had the same intention, is that here’s this important political figure whether you like it or not so here is his story for better or for worse.
It’s certainly not the final word on Jacob Zuma, and of course it has Jeremy Gordin’s opinions in it as well, but it is an attempt to reflect on the full life of Jacob Zuma from his birth until the current day. Much is known about the last six or eight years - the trials, the tribulations, whatever - but not that much is known about his years in Robben Island, or where he grew up, or his early political days. So it’s an attempt to explore that fully, but as I said it’s certainly not the final word but we think, we hope, that it is required reading because he’s destined - very likely - to be our next president.
DA: Well it almost seems like it should have in brackets “part one” and part two to follow later on, post-presidency.
JB: Yes, well that’s it, if he does make it as president and serves five years or ten years, whatever, I mean he said that he will only serve one term then perhaps a new edition or volume two will be forthcoming.
DA: Well, politicians say all sorts of things, as we know.
DA: What do you think about the publishing landscape at the moment just in terms of how we write about our leadership? Do you think biography is the most adequate medium that we have? I know that Jonathan Ball’s had other titles...
JB: Yes, it’s a very good medium because it’s one that the public understands and likes to buy. So in other words one can be fairly confident if one publishes a biography that – as opposed to a collection of essays or some other form that it will be purchased by quite a few people. So in other words you can reach an audience through biography. Whether it’s the perfect means, you know every book has its own lenses. You know, it depends who writes it, authorized or unauthorized.
But going beyond biography, […] what makes the South African publishing landscaped different from say the UK or Australia is that political books sell very well. I think that certainly points to a country obsessed with politics with, you know, a lot of political change, a lot of political tension. And that is why we choose to publish in that genre because it is an exciting genre and people want to read about it and we like to keep our finger on the pulse.
DA: Sorry to throw you a bit of a curve ball but I read yesterday in the newspaper that Jonathan Ball has had a bit of trouble between two of its titles, The Arms Deal in Your Pocket and the Zuma biography issues with [being], you know, a bit too lenient with the referencing style. Do you care to comment on that?
JB: Yes, I can’t really say anything more now, other than they are both our authors and that makes that quite a sensitive matter. We are speaking to both authors about it and we are moving towards a settlement between the two authors and once we reach that settlement we will issue a statement. I’m afraid I can’t say more than that right now*.
DA: Tell us a little bit about Arms Deal in Your Pocket, what’s that all about?
JB: Well, it’s quite simply as it sounds, I hoped the title would be self-explanatory. Paul Holden is a young author with I think a great future. He approached us and the first time he approached us I turned him down because we were about to publish Andrew Feinstein’s book which also covered aspects of the Arms Deal, although of course it wasn’t only about that.
But then, upon reflection, after the success of Andrew’s book we then went back to Paul and sort of said we would love to do your book now and he finished it off and did a terrific job, it is really the Arms Deal in your pocket. If you want to know the A-Z of the Arms Deal, well then read that book. It’s short, it’s compelling, he’s done remarkable research.
DA: That type of material can often have quite a few legal implications. So, is that difficult for you to deal with some of the forensic detail and you know the external forces that might threaten [the publication].
JB: Paul’s a very good researcher and he was very very keen not to go beyond the available material so he was very careful in his research and certainly we had a lawyer read it and we have lawyers read many of our books because they are potentially libelous or cross a legal boundary. So we’ve had no comeback from it which is probably a compliment to Paul in terms of his research.
DA: Well, thank you Mr. Boraine, I think we need to go but it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
JB: Thank you very much.
Photos by Mark Oppenheimer.
*Note: the controversy over the insufficient acknowledgment of Holden's words in the Gordin text was subsequently resolved between the two authors. See this post on BookSA: 'Happy ending for Holden, Gordin, Ball'