The West Rand Jive Cats Boxing Club

For all of us there comes a fall, a loss of innocence – a time after which we are never again the same. For twelve-year-old Tommy and Chris, growing up on the mines of Johannesburg, that time came in 1958.

Goaded by the pulse of Elvis, Little Richard and the kwela kwela rhythms of the black ghettos, these young jive cats of the West Rand Cons Mine look to prove their grit on the slumyard dance floors and in the sweat-soaked ring of the boxing club, run by the enigmatic and wise Jock McGinty. But Tommy has a little sister Cecilia, sweet, whimsical and vulnerable. Unwittingly, she will make the friends face a choice between courage and cowardice, between loyalty and betrayal.

This is a compelling story about the endurance of friendship, and about coming of age in South Africa at a time that was at once charmed and cruel.

Read an extract 


“Amazing … Liebenberg’s writing is flawless. She takes a complex South African history and creates something fantastic”
– PEOPLE MAGAZINE – Read review here 

“There are few Southern African-based books that do what you’d least expect of them. This, though, is what Lauren Liebenberg has achieved, and the unexpected is always to be applauded … The novel has a true, raw feel about it … An effortless tale that captures more than is initially apparent … Liebenberg is a terrific writer.”
– THE GUARDIAN – Read review here 

Listen to book review by Anne Else as heard on Radio New Zealand (23 June 2011) 

“ … a moving, excellently crafted story …”

“ … a compelling coming-of-age story … “

“… Liebenberg’s crafted prose atmospherically conjures up a sense of a distant past …”

“… a raw and moving read …”

“Occasionally, a novel comes along that packs an extra punch … Understanding all the yearning, the angst, the excitement, the bravado and the bewilderment of youth is what Liebenberg does best … Liebenberg’s compelling, moving and occasionally darkly humorous story is complex on social, psychological and political levels but it is also gloriously literate … A memorable story”

‘Impressive … a moving story about friendship, loyalty and a summer that changes everything’


“Coming of age with the help of boxing” Novelist departs from semi-autobiographical themes to an imaginative account of poor whites in the old SA.

Lauren de Beer (Business Day 5 July 2011). Read interview here.

Back story

Article: Virago Website, 03 October 2011

The West Rand Jive Cats’ Boxing Club is my quarry of Africa’s boiler-room; Johannesburg. The city, in all its greedy, gold-encrusted glory, is fertile soil for any writer, but as it’s my city, I found myself personally drawn to root around in its ugly past – from the almost gothic horror of the mines, to the heaving slum-yards, septic with pimps and shebeen-queens, tsotsi gangsters, street musicians, and the Prophets of Zion. I let the sheer rudeness of the city foment my jive cats and then juiced them up with the pop cult of the fifties:The birth of rock ’n’ roll jumped out and slapped me across the face; I couldn’t resist infusing the story with the grinding pulse and sweaty, feral sound of the new music that first defined and set apart the great swell of baby-boomers. And I was seduced by the sordid theatre of the ring. My jive cats are mostly forged from borrowed memories and I was struck by how often those I interviewed reminisced about boxing. Something as primal as the fight game is ripe for poetic metaphors for fear, cowardice, courage and redemption – classic elements of a coming of age novel, and I shamelessly exploited the grip that this oldest and most visceral of sports has on us as I sought to recapture the angst and bravado of youth.This is somewhat ironic for someone who has always found pugilism repugnant, and who has long reviled this dirty, grasping city where someone wants something from you everywhere you go. But perhaps that is point of writing, and of reading too – to shift perspective.Having quit my ‘real job’ in banking, all the ego-bruising rejection I endured trying to get out of the ‘slush pile’; the editorial purgatory; to the sting of bad reviews (which is like accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation about you in the smoke room where everyone agrees that you suck), has all been worth it, because as a writer, I get to live a secret double life: For over a year, in my head, I was also a twelve year old boy in 1958, a place that to all intents and purposes no longer exists. My duet of dance and the fight game allowed me to thrum once more with the raw energy, the reckless swagger and the hopefulness of youth. It is the ultimate escapism.
This article originally appeared as a guest post on Virago’s blog …
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