Music is at the heart of Nthikeng Mohlele’s latest novel, his sixth, called Illumination. It focuses on a jazz musician and composer, Bantubonke, a man out of tune with fads. He is ageing, his cherished wife is living away from him in France, studying for a degree. Bantubonke has suffered an injury to his mouth — which means he can no longer play as he once could. Mohlele skilfully weaves in the notes of music so central to Bantubonke’s life, a man who even compares the ring of a front doorbell in musical terms: “Like a chopped note in the key of G.” His wife’s name too, Bird, is another note on the musical scale. In conversation, Mohlele is soft-spoken, measured and thoughtful in his responses. I ask about how he was able to get the musical notes right, so to speak. He smiles quietly and says, “It’s instinctive. I’m learning to play the guitar. I love music, I’m exposed to live concerts, I know musicians, it’s just observation, research.” As to the central theme of loss — in terms ...

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