Siya masters the opportunity on and off the field
As a literary project, Siya Kolisi’s book Rise is a microcosm of what good literature should be. Everyone who worked on it did a great job; the editor edited, the proofreader corrected and read.
All it has to do is take a seat on the bestselling bookstore shelves – where it deserves, and anyone who has worked on the aesthetics of the cover has certainly picked the best image of this specimen to lure shoppers, and the book will no doubt fly off the shelves.
It’s the type of book that shows the subject – more the man than the subject – who is loved and surrounded by good people who wish him well.
Of course, the game of rugby has its loyal millions!
There are no passenger words on the 302 pages (his personal statement on the back extends the book to 307 pages). Each word is used like a rugby player to accomplish a specific task in the story told here.
There is a stereotype in the book world that if it is easy to read, it has been hard work to write.
This applies to Rise, a title derived from the isiXhosa name of the Springbok rugby captain’s own mother, Phakama.
If you read the book the way I did – like a man on the wrong side of 50 who was a donkey 25 years ago, you will marvel at the wisdom of this new generation of mid-twenties that Kolisi represents. He tried his hand at the debauchery of youth and was out quickly before he could become a statistic.
The culmination of turning a new page – and becoming a better person, in his words – was giving one’s life to Christ.
At 25, I was personally involved in other matters, far from bringing myself closer to realizing my God-given talent and potential.
But Kolisi was precocious enough to realize that his family life in the township of Zwide, near present-day Gqeberha, was unhappy and only led to a dead end. His sure way out was his only talent.
He writes about family and community, warts and everything. This is the maturity of someone who knows who they are – where they are from and where they are going.
This mindset makes it easy for Kolisi to appreciate his luck and the opportunities that opened up to him. He knows – we all know – a lot of talented sports stars who haven’t reached their potential and have given in to substance abuse.
Today they tell a very different story than what’s in Rise.
The argument is that unlike soccer, rugby has good kindergarten programs that pay attention to the holistic development of a player. This mindset says that Kolisi would succeed because rugby leaves no room for failure. But if you read this book, you will quickly find that Kolisi could not have turned out any other way. He has always been literally and figuratively hungry for success and for leaving the life of crime and filth in Zwide behind.
Of course, he will return now, as part of the Kolisi Foundation, which aims to help others ascend.
I don’t care that much about rugby. I know about the 1995 Rugby World Cup performance because Madiba and Francois Pienaar were the country’s toast at that Kumbaya moment. I know Chester Williams and other black people because they represented a departure from a separate past.
I have no interest in finding out what a “try” is and how goals are counted in rugby.
But a book like this brings you closer to the game, as did the 1995 shirt history with the number 6 to spark interest in rugby.
This is a book about standing up against all odds.
What makes it even sweeter is that it is the life story of one of our own, a son of the soil whose idea of ââa united South Africa is so refreshing.
[Auto] Biographies are like the aristocrats of literature. This is a fine example of the genre.
As an old dog, I’ve certainly learned new tricks while leafing through this masterpiece.
The book is published by HarperCollins and costs R320