Inspired by Nthikeng Mohlele’s immense passion for music and art, Illumination is centered on Bantubonke, an accomplished and revered jazz trumpeter, composer and band leader who is in decline - he lives for his music at the expense of all else. Illumination was thought about for eight years; it took over three years to write and complete. It was written before Nthikeng's fifth novel, Michael K, which released in April 2018.

Illuminating, artistic and lyrical - these 10 quotes, selected by the author, capture Bantubonke’s story and show why you need to read the book:

"I was born into a musical family, musicians to whom I was bonded either by blood or by a musical brotherhood. I have been dazzled by lyrics that make hearts flutter, by piano solos that seem to hang in the air deep into the night, long after the performances were concluded."

"I am a musical being, and very little else. But this is not only a tale of music; it cannot be – for music does not have a life of its own, cannot exist without other things, without beauty, abundance, longing, passion, rebellion, the spiritual, grief, euphoria, sacredness, loss and heartbreak."

"The beauty of Johannesburg is not immediate. Neither is it only visual. It is an aesthetic that resists being the beauty only of place, of the physical, buildings and bridges and skylines, tree-lined streets and crimson cloud-dotted horizons; it is a beauty that is heard as much as it is felt."

"I played countless sold-out concerts at the Blues Room, in the Village Walk precinct of Sandton, to exclusive and high-profile audiences that existed in a bubble, distant from the nuisances of hungry and despondent countrymen and women. A magnum of Champagne at the jazz club costs as much as six months’ groceries, enough to furnish – cobbled together from pawnshops and flea markets – the homes of the hungry and agitated."

"I am, when all the applause has died down, when the drum kit is disassembled and the guitars are encased when silence falls and blankets the auditoriums of performance halls, engulfed by bouts of loneliness. It takes my bands months, even years, to understand that I am not a talker, that I never have been. My life is in my head – its estimations, the violent waves that wash onto its beaches, its fine sands, its salty waters throwing seashells into view."

"I wallow in a strange kind of hunger these days, a hunger that signifies music depravation. I am without refuge from emotions that erupt and spill all over to people and things around me. I guess I have become too tender-hearted, a too-awakened spirit that cannot remain calm: love ballads make me weepy, protest music enrages me, commercial pop irritates me no end, while jazz – my chosen life and art form – submerges me in bouts of blurry rumination and mild depression."

"I am ageing and fading, but nurturing a new-found piece of existential arithmetic: If we are – in our truest and completest nature – souls, spirits and therefore vapours, then it should be inconsequential what happens to the physical form, to bones, sinews, lumps of fat. If the spirit is lively and full of flame, of urgency, of purity, radiance and calm, it makes no sense to obsess about pains and pleasures of the heart and the flesh. Music, too, is not food for bones – for skulls and teeth and femurs – but a well for the soul."

"I have thought about the many faces you wear in a lifetime. For, even if it’s a known face, with improvements and deformities it might encounter in its life journey, it is not the same face, not the same expressions mark such a face, for faces have mastered countless masks and counter masks, pointed revelations in front of prosecutors, clergymen, rivals, would- be assassins, former lovers, sexual superiors, law-enforcers, photographers, admired grandparents or the babbling babies of strangers."

"It is also true that I have been transformed from a rather talented and boundless kisser into a man of mediocre passions, a man who has walked the avenues of whip-sharp kisses (slow, fast, wet, furious, lazy, rushed, sleepy, lustful) to an expansive outpost where not a single throbbing kiss exists."

"The television camera has violated the universe of music in atrocious ways; the music video the great propeller of fame and rampant consumerism. Songs have become competitions for daring degrees of nakedness and crass sensuality: a flash of a nipple here, an outline of a buttock behind diaphanous curtains there, and extreme close- ups of parted lips painted red, revealing only the front teeth, supposedly depicting overwhelming arousal."

Book cover for Illumination

Illumination

Bantubonke is an accomplished and revered jazz trumpeter, composer and band leader in decline – an absent present and inadequate spouse. He lives for art at the expense of all else, an imbalance that derails his life and propels him to the brink of madness and despair. A story of direct and implied ...