Wessel Ebersohn is an internationally published South African novelist and thriller author. Wessel Ebersohn was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1940. He went to school in Cape Town and Somerset West.
At the age of 15 he left school to become a pupil telecommunications technician. His first book to be published was A LONELY PLACE TO DIE, the first Yudel Gordon Novel, in 1977. The rest of novels have followed in the years since then.
In 1963 he married Miriam. They have three children and six grandchildren.
In 1995 with the arrival of the democratic dispensation in South Africa, he and Miriam launched Succeed magazine, a magazine aimed at assisting small business. For 18 years he was its editor and Miriam its publisher. For the past six years they have lived on a beautiful small-holding on the edge of the South African bushveld.
Wessel Ebersohn, on his writing: “I have always written. At the age of eight I tried my hand at my first novel, based on a football match. It was long on action, but short on plot or characterisation. It took an apprenticeship of another 31 years before I saw a novel in print. At present I am producing one a year.
“My work has been particularly influenced by the great American novelists: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Hawthorne and James among them. But my subject matter comes from my life experiences and the continuing drama of my own country and continent.”
Wessel Ebersohn has been published in South Africa, the USA, the UK and most European countries.
He is a writer of both general novels and thrillers. His favourite among his own novels is THE CLASSIFIER, published in 2011. The book is a story of teenage love between Chris, a white boy, and Ruthie, a coloured girl. It is set in the 1970s when apartheid was at its height. Their relationship is complicated by two factors: all sexual contact between the races is illegal, but also the boy’s father is head of the race classification office in the province they live in. The book is rooted in Miriam’s own personal contact with the race classification system in Durban in the 1970s.
After a hiatus of almost ten years, Wessel Ebersohn returns with DELUGE, a new Yudel Gordon thriller. In DELUGE the eccentric prisons psychologist is summoned to do the impossible: extract information from a severely tortured and unconscious prisoner who’s planted explosives in a hostel dormitory packed with school children. It appears to be an open and shut case in which a disaffected white supremacist is out for revenge and the settling of scores. All our intrepid prison psychologist has to do is find the obvious target and save the children or so it seems.
But for Yudel, there’s something more going on here, a pattern that looks and feels unsettlingly familiar; a pattern that triggers memories of one deluge after another in a quiet town in the Kalahari in 1994 on the brink of democracy; a deluge unleashed by the raging flood waters of a mighty river amidst the mayhem and murder of a police officer and cries for justice from all sides.
In this complex story of memory and remembering Yudel Gordon does more than prevent a crime or bring criminals to justice, he is affected by and bears witness to the actions and motivations of individuals and communities against the backdrop of an unjust past and a hopeful present and future.
Wessel Ebersohn’s Writing
The core of my novel writing has always revolved round the nature of the society in which I live. I have been asked if I prefer writing thrillers or serious novels. My answer has always been that my thrillers are serious novels.
During the apartheid years, I tried to portray the nature of the society and the people who drove the policy. I also tried to show something of the people who hated it, both those on the inside who lived with their struggles of conscience, and those on the outside who fought it with their very lives.
Now that apartheid has ended I try to reflect in my writings the strengths of the post-apartheid society, but also its excesses. While there are many of these, they are relatively light-weight sins, only exploring the shallows of evil, nothing like the depths of the past.
Having confessed all that, none of my stories are sermons. Above all, they are stories and I am a storyteller. They are intended to grip and entertain and, judging by the responses of reviewers, and readers on the Amazon website, they seem to have had some success.
My writing has been published in my own country, in the United Kingdom, in France and all European countries to the north of that fascinating country, and also on the other side of the Atlantic in the USA, the country to whose writers I owe most.
My first published novel (in 1977) was also the first in the Yudel Gordon series, a character who is with me still. One might say we have grown old together. The book’s title was A Lonely Place To Die. Two years later the second Yudel Gordon was published, its title: Divide The Night.
Between the two, Store Up The Anger, about a death in security police detention, was well received wherever it was published. If there was an exception to that, it was to be found in the reaction of my country’s censors. They banned both that book and Divide The Night. The banning order on both was fought by Professor John Dugard of the University of the Witwatersrand and the ban lifted by Professor Kobus van Rooyen of the Publications Appeal Board.
The eighties were years of disillusionment for me and Miriam, my life partner. Perhaps we expected too much. The reality was that while government agents were regularly killing activists, the side of truth and justice was as regularly, without even the semblance of a trial, burning alive people by the necklace method. Many who were killed that way were guilty of nothing at all. Few leaders of the liberation movement spoke out publicly against it. At least one applauded it publicly. When two strike breakers were murdered on the premises of the country’s largest trade union federation, its general secretary would not even acknowledge it to me.
The confusion in my mind affected my ability to write about our society and was certainly a contributing factor to the slowing down of productivity in my fiction. It also contributed to a completely different choice of subject matter. Klara’s Visitors was a satirical look at Hitler’s early years.
Closed Circle saw the return of Yudel Gordon, but between 1981 and 2009 I wrote only those two books and one about the six years we lived in the Knysna forest and the friends we made among wild creatures.
Since 2010, three more Yudel Gordon books have appeared. In The October Killings, Abigail Bukula, Yudel’s new associate, appears for the first time. Those Who Love Night is set in the Zimbabwean dictatorship across out northern border. And The Top Prisoner of C-Max deals with a power battle between inmates of a maximum security prison.
During that period The Classifier also appeared. It is the story of the son of a man responsible for race classification in apartheid South Africa. As a teenage boy he committed his society’s unforgivable sin by falling in love with a coloured girl. During the time the story is told he is an embittered middle-aged man, leaving the country.
Miriam and I have been married for 52 years. We have three children and six grandchildren.
As a writer, I am just getting into my stride.
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