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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Institute for Taxi Poetry

by
Imraan Coovadia


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author



Title: The Institute for Taxi Poetry
Author: Imraan Coovadia
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012
Length: 217 pages
  • The Institute for Taxi Poetry is not yet available in US or UK editions

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Our Assessment:

B+ : an appealing, creative vision, rather nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Sunday Times . 5/8/2012 Karl Van Wyk


  From the Reviews:
  • "Coovadia attempts to prove this point in ways that are complex without ever feeling heavy, and is proficient in his handling of these themes while linking them to an entertaining plot. His skill is especially evident in the novel's final chapter in which many of the narrative strands are elegantly tied together. This is a fun and insightful ride" - Karl Van Wyk, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In his story Career Move (in the collection Heavy Water), Martin Amis posits a world where it is poets that are the most successful writers (while screenwriters and novelists toil for a pittance and receive practically no recognition). Imraan Coovadia does not go quite so far in The Institute for Taxi Poetry, but the world of this novel also differs somewhat from the present-day one. Set in a much more heavily Portuguese-influenced world, and specifically in Cape Town, this is also a reality in which 'taxi poetry' is something that is taken quite seriously. The narrator of the novel, Adam Ravens, is, in fact, assistant director at the Jose da Silva Perreira Institute for Transport Poetry at the University of Cape Town (elsewhere referred to as the Institute for Taxi Poetry) -- and that's hardly the only institution dedicated to the field; indeed:

Transport poetry was global, and by nature a technological-political enterprise.
       In The Institute for Taxi Poetry, Adam describes a pivotal week in his life -- possibly the most complicated, he acknowledges at the beginning. Presented day by day, until the last lumped-together chapter that packs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday together, it begins with the Monday funeral of his murdered mentor, Solly Greenfield. A legend in the field, Solly also worked for the Road Safety Council -- which put him at odds with the taxi companies. Trying to figure out who had it in for Solly -- to the extent they were willing to shoot him -- is one thing that keeps Adam preoccupied over these days.
       Adam also considers Solly's life and legacy -- something brought to mind not only because of Solly's death, but because another transport poet, and one of Solly's more internationally successful contemporaries, Gerome Geromian, is being honored at the Institute this week with the inaugural Jose da Silva Perreira Award. Adam is assigned to be his minder on his stay -- which he is not entirely thrilled about ("where Solly reminded me of eating snoek, Geromian made me want to drink cyanide).
       Other problems Adam has to juggle include Solly's cat, Marmalade, averting (or at least postponing) a student-strike, his nineteen-year-old son, Zebulon (following, to some extent, in his father's footsteps), and the fact that his contract at the Institute is up for renewal. All the while, too, he wonders about the many facets of taxi and transport poetry, historically and now.
       Yes, The Institute for Taxi Poetry is in part a murder mystery, but really that's only (part of) the framework for a more meditative work that, in its slightly skewed reality, considers literature, politics, and academia in quite creative ways. From the taxi-business hierarchies -- drivers, sliding-door men (since the taxis are generally minibuses, with sliding doors on the side), and taxi poets -- to Portuguese as dominant language and culture, Coovadia presents a subtly different world refracting our own.
       As Adam notes at one point:
There was a glamour inherent to a narrative which differed from the thing's reality.
       Poet and story-teller (as he is here) Adam recognizes this getting-caught-up-in-one's-art, but it's a nice balance Coovadia strikes here, rarely too blatant in its presentation (in contrast to, say, the Amis of Heavy Water) even as his narrative turns out to have a surprising reach. Adrift in the day-to-day (even as that is punctuated by the rather unusual), Adam carries the reader with surprising subtlety; it is an eventful (and complicated) week, but Adam has so much to navigate that aspects constantly elude him, and there is a(n often expressed) sense of uncertainty about so much he is dealing with.
       Coovadia's appealing, controlled style -- this is very fine writing -- gives much of The Institute for Taxi Poetry an almost understated feel; at times a bit more energy might have served the story well. Nevertheless, it's a strikingly imagined novel and vision, with more resonance than its 200-some-odd pages would suggest.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 June 2013

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Links:

The Institute for Taxi Poetry: Reviews: Imraan Coovadia: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       South African author Imraan Coovadia was born in 1970.

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© 2013 the complete review

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