Book Review: Durban Poison

A collection of vitriol and wit

Ben Trovato

MF Books Joburg

Review: Brian Joss

There is no cow so sacred that it escapes being sacrificed on the spear of Ben Trovato’s barbed pen. Trovato’s columns have been appearing in newspapers since 1986.  First in The Namibian, where his now ex-wife was the editor; then when he was back in South Africa in the Cape Times when it became staple reading which had readers spluttering into their “snap, crackle and pop”, not knowing whether to be outraged or just enjoy a laugh from one of the country’s top satirists. From there it was a short skip and a jump to the Sunday Times where he couldn’t refuse the lure of filthy lucre which would keep him a style that he could grow accustomed to. Trovato’s column, Durban Poison, was published in the Sunday Tribune but it was dropped for “budgetary restraints”, in plain English, the publishers couldn’t afford to pay him.

Trovato has written several books,  starting with The Ben Trovato Files in 2001 which was long-listed for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. Others include Will the Real Ben Trovato Please Stand Up? Ben Trovato – Stirred Not Shaken and The Whipping Boy to name a few.

For years there was speculation about the real identity of Ben Trovato until he revealed all in his roller-coaster memoir: Incognito: The Memoirs of Ben Trovato. If you want to know his name, “don’t be a cheap bastard” and buy a copy of the book. He deserves the royalties.

But back to  Durban Poison.  Don’t expect anything politically correct in any of the columns. They will make you laugh uproariously, squirm with embarrassment as you recognise the racist in you, or nod your head sagely, and say I told you so.

Each column is equally good with commentary on the human condition and Trovato not only pokes fun at others but at himself too.

One of the columns which had more than the ring of truth was when he and his good friend, Ted, decided to celebrate Women’s Day by becoming them (Get Skirted and Unleash Your Inner Babe). It’s very funny but it will give you a lot to think about.

Other columns that are much more serious are the open letters he writes to “hardcore huntress” Melissa Bachman (A Letter to Hardcore Huntress Melissa Bachman) who caused a worldwide stir when she posted a picture of herself with the lion she killed in South Africa; and to Dr Walter Palmer (A Letter to Dr Walter Palmer – Lion Hunter) who killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, and was proud of it.

Trovato’s take on climate change (Global Warming? It Wasn’t Me, Officer), is another column that gets straight to the nub of the matter.

And if you’ve ever had dealings with Home Affairs then Trovato’s travails of applying for a passport (No Truth In A Passport to Paradise) you’ll be in familiar territory,

Another column that will resonate is about Trovato’s visit to the doctor (When Dying Is A Numbers Game). It will make you laugh but it has the ring of truth.

Durban Poison is the ideal book to cheer you up over the festive season. The review copy arrived with two bottles of craft beer, Durban Poison (cannabis beer) and a packet of Rizla papers so you can roll your own cigarettes using tobacco or dagga. Which is now legal to use in private or to grow it for your own use, the ConCourt confirmed in September 2018.

Perhaps there’s a message there.

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