On The Bookshelf: Note To Self


When Deon Maas’s wife was offered a job in Berlin, they moved. She worked, and he walked the dogs … until he decided to write a book about his life in a foreign city. We speak to the expat about his unusual travel book.

What is <Witboy In Berlin: Adventures In The First World> about?

It’s a travel book about settling down. It looks at the issue of identity and the process of resettling in an alien country, where you don’t speak the language or know the customs.

It’s about being too white for Africa and too African for the First World. It is a search for identity against the backdrop of popular culture and learning a new history.

What understandings of South Africans do you think readers can gain from the book?

I think we are all trying to figure out what this term “South African” means. There seem to be quite a few interpretations of it, depending on your political point of view.

My great-great-great-grandparents may have been colonialists, but I am not. Moving to Berlin just increased the feeling of alienation from the country of my birth.

I think many South Africans can relate to this feeling. Few have actually talked about it. It’s time for the unheard voices to speak out about identity and reclaim what is rightfully theirs. If this fails, the book makes a great paperweight and has some pictures inside you can look at.

Witboy In Berlin: Adventures In The First World
Witboy In Berlin: Adventures In The First World

Why did you write it?

I was tired of walking the dogs as my only daily activity. I’m also hoping that it will make me financially secure enough to only have to walk my dogs…

This is your third non-fiction book. How does it differ from the others?

Both my previous books were essays. This is a full-length book, which forced me to approach it in a different way. In the past, I would write in these marathon sessions, finishing a chapter per sitting.

This time I used a slower approach, rewrote some stuff, tinkered here and there, and in general crafted something over a longer period of time.

This was quite a discovery for me. I also think it makes it a better book. But then I <would> say that, wouldn’t I?

Tell us more about how your interest in writing started.

I started writing as a six-year-old, and collected rejections slips as a hobby until I was 16. Becoming a writer was never really discussed; it was kind of presumed (except for a short period when I wanted to be a rock star).

Having failed to learn to play the guitar, I went back to mastering the typewriter.

There were some diversions along the way including, but not limited to, record company A&R guy, radio presenter, documentary filmmaker, TV producer and reality TV manipulator.

<Witboy In Berlin> is also available in Afrikaans as <Witboy In Berlyn: Avonture In Die Eerste Wêreld>. It is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers. R260.

Words Irna van Zyl


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