Nina Selbst was born in 1928, in Cape Town
Nina Selbst's parents were the children of penniless immigrants
Nina Selbst began to be troubled as she reached adolescence
Nina Selbst was born in 1928, in Cape Town, in the shadow of Table Mountain, recently selected as one of the wonders of the world. In fact, she became Nina Selbst from Nina Herbstein after she got married. Her parents were the children of penniless, immigrants who had escaped the cruel antisemitism of Eastern Europe and, in only a couple of decades of hard work, managed to establish themselves in the community and open up to their children avenues of personal and professional advancement. She grew up, with three brothers, in the seaside village of Muizenberg in a comfortable, secure, middle class environment. Discrimination against non-whites was part of the accepted order of society but it was very much milder than the virulent, ideological form it took in the later years of Apartheid. It seemed quite natural until she reached adolescence and began to be troubled by the injustice of sorting human beings into a rigid hierarchy by the color of their skin.
Welcome! Nina Selbst
Your Real Name
I was born Nina Herbstein but, though a feminist by inclination, on marriage took my husband's surname, so I am Nina Selbst
Best Memories of Childhood:
Growing up in the wonderful village of Muizenberg, enjoying the most beautiful surroundings of the Cape Peninsula, swimming in the Indian Ocean, horse-riding along the beach with its endless white sands, scrambling up the Muizenberg mountain, canoeing on the Vlei – all in the company of great friends and almost free of adult supervision
After a brief few years at a co-educational school, I was moved to a girls' school, where I completed my high school education. I was a good student but found most of what was offered as 'education' excruciatingly boring. Real intellectual challenge came from a home in which everything (with the exception of sex and death) was discussed in front of the children and with their active participation, and from my peers in the far left Zionist Socialist Youth movement that I joined at fifteen
What career did you plan?
For a number of years I wanted to be a chemist and nothing else. Fortunately for me I realized, after only a year of academic study in the field, that this was not for me and I turned to the social sciences.
What languages can you speak and write?
English is my mother tongue but I also speak, read and write Hebrew freely...I was once reasonably fluent in Afrikaans, the other language of white South Africans, but regrettably my competence has faded over years of disuse. Even more regrettably, the languages of Black South Africans were a closed book to me .I enjoyed learning Spanish, which I found useful as a tourist, but was always better at speaking carefully prepared sentences than at understanding replies delivered at express train speed
|with her grandmother, father and first son|
What is your biggest source of inspiration in life?
That's a hard question. I suppose that at this stage of life it is watching my eight granddaughters grow into such fine human beings, each in her own way.
What hurts you most in this world?
In a most general sense, the unnecessary suffering that human beings inflict on one another. More specifically, the failure of the two peoples who occupy the narrow strip of land that I call home, to find a way to live, together or apart, in peace and mutual respect
|at the shrine of mamiwater near the Volta river|
If you had to live a day in your life as a living or dead personality, who would it be and why?.
Moses, on the last day of his life. I would devote that day to writing my autobiography so that future generations could have an authentic account of what really happened in those distant days, straight from a participant and eye witness. On second thoughts though, perhaps Moses is not a valid choice, being in all probability neither living nor dead, but a creature of the fertile human imagination.
What is your favorite genre?
History, both fiction and non-fiction but most particularly the seamless combination of the two, wonderfully represented by Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, for instance. It is a genre that provides a wealth of insights into the enduring sources of human motivation.
When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?
My earliest writing was not from choice. From the moment that I learned to put pencil to paper, I was expected to write – happy birthday greetings and get well wishes to my grandparents, thank you notes for birthday presents received and so on. My early efforts were rather stilted and standardized, but the habit became firmly established. From the time I left home I wrote to my parents every single week and kept them abreast of all, (well perhaps not quite all!), that was happening in my life
Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?
Disregarding a miscellaneous collection of articles, reports and professional papers, short stories and accounts of family history intended for a limited circle, my one published work is "Writ in Water" (November 2015)
The. book is a wide-ranging account of the diverse ways in which water is intertwined with the story of humanity. It opens with creation myths, those narratives never lacking a role for water, invented to explain how our world began. It closes with a listing of place names the world over, all with references to watery features of the landscape. In between it offers accounts of clean drinking water and foul, of irrigation – ancient and modern, of cleanliness and godliness, of exploration of the unknown along great rivers, of water wheels and hydroelectricity, of art and poetry and a good deal more.
The researching and writing of this book has been a fascinating journey of discovery for me. I can only hope that it will provide both pleasure and enlightenment to anyone who undertakes to read it.
Forthcoming writing, future plans
Perhaps I will manage a little story book for my two great grandsons, but at the age of eighty seven, plans for the future really belong in the same realm as green bananas.
What is generally your preference in reading – a paper book or ebook? And why?
I love the look and feel of printed books but cannot resist the enchantment of having a book at my disposal seconds after deciding to read it, with the additional bonus that it makes no demands for space on my crowded bookshelves. I feel no obligation to choose between them.
Your dream destination on earth
The top of Mount McKinley. When I was sixty I promise myself that I was going to climb the highest mountain in America at the age of ninety. As the date approaches I must acknowledge that it is going to remain a dream destination.
Countries you have visited
I have at least set foot on four of the five continents. Never made it to Australia.
Last book you finished reading?
Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Current book you are reading?
The Little Prince Returns by Yoram Selbst.
Just published in Hebrew. Not yet available in English
Your favorite movie?
The African Queen. A funny and moving story of two people discovering love in a very surprising setting. Perfect performances by two great actors – Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.
I have no taste for celebrities.
What comes to your mind when you think of India?
Bhagvad-Gita, Mahatma Ghandi, curry, colonialism, sacred cows, funeral pyres and widows' homes on the banks of mother Ganga, grinding poverty and enormous potential
First thing you do in the morning after waking up?
Let the dog out.
The last thing to do before sleep
Read until the book falls from my hand.
The last line of your autobiography would be..
Past Imperfect – that sums up this story.
The title of your autobiography would be…
Truth to tell…