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The Whale Caller Hardcover – 4 Aug 2005

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd (4 Aug. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670915858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670915859
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.4 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,354,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A wise and seductive tale of love and jealousy. [Mda's] fiction has a beguiling lyricism and humour' -- Guardian

'An enchanted world in which the realistic and the magical co-exist with unruffled ease . . . His finest achievement yet' -- The Independent

'At heart 'The Whale Caller' is a love story . . . Zakes Mda writes with admirable wit and gusto' -- TLS --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

An internationally acclaimed novelist and playwright, Zakes Mda has been awarded every major South African prize for his work. He is married with four children and is a professor of creative writing at Ohio University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 4 Mar. 2006
Format: Hardcover
After decades of wandering along the coasts of two Oceans, a sometime fisherman returns home. The remote South African town of Hermanuspietersfontein has phoenixed in his absence. It's now part of "The Whale Coast" and tourists flock here with cameras, video and tape recorders, dour expressions and money. The latter has brought vendors and craftspeople. The entire enterprise has cost the village the last four syllables of its name. The fisherman, who once caused a schism in his local church, is also enchanted by the whales. That attraction manifests itself as a compelling and spellbinding story - the creation of the Hermanus Penitent.
The Whale Caller, whose name we never learn, played a "kelp horn" so well for his church, that it split between those who adored his music and those who favoured tradition. He learns that the passing whales also have an ear for his music. One Southern Right in particular, who he dubs "Sharisha", is particularly responsive. Every season he waits for her return from the Southern Ocean [a third one!]. He will play the kelp horn for her and she will respond with her own cries and ecstatic maneuverings. They are a song and dance team.
When Sharisha fails to arrive, the Whale Caller is desolate. Has she been overrun by a ship, the propeller shredding her flesh? Have the Japanese whale fishers taken her for their sushi tables? He pines and grieves. With no means of learning what may have happened to Sharisha, the Whale Caller visits Mr Yodd to unload his troubles upon. Mr Yodd makes the Whale Caller feel he's overwrought and must find the patience to await Sharisha's return. Who is Mr Yodd and why does he live in a grotto at the edge of the community?
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Format: Hardcover
For many people whale watching has a special attraction. For some the infatuation may even reach the height of passion and love. This is the subject of Mda's appealing novel about a man, a whale and a woman - in that order. The narrative flows and ebbs like the ocean tides and the playful jumps and splashes of the animals. At times it evokes playfulness, harmony and music of whale and kelp horn. At others it reflects the tense dramas, discords and human foibles that weigh down on the main characters. It's a bitter-sweet, humorous and sad love story, set against the backdrop of post-Apartheid South Africa.

The tale is set in and around the "whale capital of the world". Hermanus is an attractive fishing town close to the most southern point of Africa. Mda admits that he usually starts his novels with a particular locale, then he creates its characters. He is not concerned with the plot "because it works itself out from who the characters are and what their physical, social and political environments are", he said in a recent interview. Whale Caller is a beautiful example of his skill of storytelling. You don't need to "google" Hermanus to learn about its splendours. Mda evokes the place and its surroundings with great detail and vibrancy.
Mda's style creates intimacy with the subjects. You follow the Whale Caller to his favourite spot, away from the whale watching crowds, where he spends his time observing the games of the whales. You share his increasing anxiety for the seasonal appearance of that one particular whale, a Southern Right, Sharisha. After a life of travels up and down the coast, the Whale Caller has settled here. His life centres around his daily communication with Sharisha throughout the season.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing 11 Mar. 2009
By Milan R. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I really wanted so badly to like this book but ... I just couldn't related with anything there. Those obsessions were simply impossible to understand. Obsession towards the whales, toward obviously retarded kids, whale obsession toward human... the only thing that looked realistic was obsession between main characters toward each other and complexity of their relationship is probably the only thing that is good. But all the rest ... it just doesn't go anywhere.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Who is the Hermanus Penitent? 8 May 2006
By Jacquelyn Gill - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In a coastal South African town, the Whale Caller waits for Sharisha, a Southern Right whale, to return from Antarctic waters to spend the breeding season offshore. Every year she and the other migrating whales return to the sound of the Whale Caller's kelp horn, though he shares a particular bond is with Sharisha. The two spend long days in a mutual dance, the Whale Caller on shore with his jubilant performance, and the whale in the sea, breaching and lobtailing in response to his music.

This year, however, Sharisha is late, and the Whale Caller is desolate; has she been killed by Japanese whalers, or injured by an errant ship's propeller? So worried is he that at first he completely overlooks the attentions of a flesh-and-blood woman on shore, Saluni the town drunk and self-proclaimed "love child." When she is not wooing the Whale Caller, Saluni spends her time singy jazz ballads in her smokey voice to earn wine from the tavern patrons, or entertaining The Bored Twins, unattended children who are by turns perfect angels and demonic hellions.

Eventually, Saluni merely shows up at the Whale Caller's little house with a suitcase, which becomes the unofficial beginning of their unconventional relationship. Fully understanding Sharisha to be her competition, Saluni sets about to change the man she loves even as he tries to wean her off of wine. Their love ebbs and flows; sometimes they are consumed with a "sickness" for one another, and others they share a small bed for days without speaking. Eventually, this ill-fated love triangle reaches a heartbreaking climax, and in the end "The Hermanus Penitent" is left alone on the beach.

Mda applies magical realism to a very real South Africa, and the problems of the post-Apartheid nation are woven subtly throughout, while never feeling preachy or overbearing. For this American reader, it was a surprisingly intimate experience for such a faraway place. The characters are unique and honestly rendered, and the writing is simple but evocative. The Whale Caller reads much like a fable, but is just as much about the characters' obsessions and inner demons as it is a fairy tale set in modern Africa. The unexpected force of Mda's narrative lingers long after the last page is turned (and it's a tear-soaked page at that).

~Jacquelyn Gill
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Beauty in the beast 30 Jan. 2006
By Friederike Knabe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
For many people whale watching has a special attraction. For some the infatuation may even reach the height of passion and love. This is the subject of Mda's appealing novel about a man, a whale and a woman - in that order. The narrative flows and ebbs like the ocean tides and the playful jumps and splashes of the animals. At times it evokes playfulness, harmony and music of whale and kelp horn. At others it reflects the tense dramas, discords and human foibles that weigh down on the main characters. It's a bitter-sweet, humorous and sad love story, set against the backdrop of post-Apartheid South Africa.

The tale is set in and around the "whale capital of the world". Hermanus is an attractive fishing town close to the most southern point of Africa. Mda admits that he usually starts his novels with a particular locale, then he creates its characters. He is not concerned with the plot "because it works itself out from who the characters are and what their physical, social and political environments are", he said in a recent interview. Whale Caller is a beautiful example of his skill of storytelling. You don't need to "google" Hermanus to learn about its splendours. Mda evokes the place and its surroundings with great detail and vibrancy.

Mda's style creates intimacy with the subjects. You follow the Whale Caller to his favourite spot, away from the whale watching crowds, where he spends his time observing the games of the whales. You share his increasing anxiety for the seasonal appearance of that one particular whale, a Southern Right, Sharisha. After a life of travels up and down the coast, the Whale Caller has settled here. His life centres around his daily communication with Sharisha throughout the season. He calls her with a special kelp horn, home-made and refined over time. She responds by jumping high into to the air and crashing back into the water whenever he calls. Her calls and his special tunes are music to their respective ears. Saluni, the village drunk, has been stalking him, intent on attracting his attention. Over time, their lives become interwoven and change forever. The South African reality, with its social and economic tensions, is sometimes alluded to yet without overwhelming the delicate and intimate story of Sharisha, Saluni and the Whale Caller.

While Mda's narrative is rooted in the reality of the place and its inhabitants, whether fish or people, the magic realm has its place as well. There is Mr. Yodd, who from his grotto at the water's edge listens and laughs at the confessions of the Whale Caller and there are the Bored Twins whose angelic voices betray their mischievous character. Are they real or imagined? The spiritual world of dreamtime and mythology is present, yet does not burden the light hearted and sometimes funny tone of the novel. A highly enjoyable read. [Friederike Knabe]
loving whales and humans can both be tough 25 Jan. 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There are a handful of novels on close relationships between
whales and humans, and this is certainly the best.
Beautifully written, full of odd and fascinating characters,
it is an intimate novel more about connections: between people,
and between people and nature. Read it and wonder...
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Magical ... or empty? 6 Aug. 2007
By Hervé DuThé - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There is very little that can be said about this book without bending over backwards to find reasons to praise it. "Magical realism" implies the richness of Marquez, but what Mda has done with "The Whale Caller" is bland and generic. The description evokes no sense of place, and as far as offering a comment on "post-Apartheid South Africa" as the book jacket claims, don't expect it. Mda has written an allegory - a thin story which cannot support the weight of its design. Once again, instead of reading the blurbs on the back, take a few minutes and dip into the book anywhere - it doesn't matter where - and you will discover the empty sameness which permeates the entire book. It just doesn't go anywhere.
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