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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Join Tshepo Moloi, Clive Glaser and David Lebethe for the Launch of Kroonstad, Place of Thorns at Wits

Invitation to the launch of Place of Thorns

Kroonstad, Place of Thorns: Black Political Protest in Kroonstad Since 1976Wits University Press and the History Workshop invite you to the launch of Kroonstad, Place of Thorns: Black Political Protest in Kroonstad Since 1976 by Tshepo Moloi.

The event will take place at Cafe Fino at Wits on Wednesday, 2 September, at 5:30 for 6 PM.

Moloi, a researcher at the History Workshop, will be in conversation with Wits Professor of History Clive Glaser and lawyer David Lebethe, who is also the founding member of the branch of the South African Student Movement at Bodibeng High in Kroonstad.

Don’t miss it!

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Achille Mbembe: As Whiteness is Put Under Pressure by Student Militancy, the “Offshore” University Model will Die

Achille MbembeOn the PostcolonyAchille Mbembe recently participated in a debate titled “Beyond Transformation”, hosted by the Wits University Transformation Committee at the School of Architecture and Planning.

Mbembe says he came away from the discussion with the realisation that the “offshore” model of the university – as exemplified, he says, by Stellenbosch University or the University of Cape Town – is “dead”.

He continues: “This model will be hard to sustain here and now, as whiteness is put under increasing pressure by new forms of student and youth militancy, each riddled with its own contradictions.”

Mbembe’s seminal text On the Postcolony was recently rereleased in an updated edition by Wits University Press.

Read Mbembe’s thoughts, as shared publicly on his Facebook Page:


Last evening I attended a debate organized by the Transformation Committee of the School of Architecture and Planning. The Committee is led by Solam Mkhabela and his colleagues. Also in attendance were Prof Tawana Kupe, the Dean of the School, Lindiwe Makanya the head of Wits Transformation Office, and a number of black professionals, architects and al. The audience was pretty mixed, with a strong representation of students. Our VC, Prof Adam Habib, could not make it.

I came out of there convinced ever more than before that the ‘offshore’ model of the university – a la UCT – is dead here, although this is the model bring peddled worldwide by the denationalized forces of the market. The ‘offshore’ university is a university that, although built here, does not belong here; does feel no obligation to account to its location and to its history. It is a university – like Stellenbosch – that is in the business of ‘fencing off’ privilege for an ‘ethnic class’ – the business of self-enclaving, once again in line with the new logics of finance capital worldwide.

This model will be hard to sustain here and now, as whiteness is put under increasing pressure by new forms of student and youth militancy, each riddled with its own contradictions. Almost on every SA campus, new voices are clamoring for recognition. They are asking serious questions about the politics of the production, circulation and redistribution of knowledge. They are reading new texts. They want to reform the classroom, the modalities of teaching and learning, the spatial and symbolic environments the universities are, how to turn them into livable and habitable spaces for all. They are asking questions about the extent to which monolingualism has become a lethal weapon used against each other, and against black students in particular.

We have no choice but to embrace these voices, even when they result in a cacophony, as long as no one is advocating the use of violence as a means to force those who disagree into submission. The times ahead will be messy to be sure.

Now, I am not sure that all the questions that need to be asked have indeed been asked or presented to the relevant authorities. We might think whatever we want about our various VCs. But they are not responsible for the allocation of our national budget. The fact is that our society and our government are not willing to bear the costs of a radical transformation of our institutions of higher learning. They are not willing to pay the right price for such a project. SA allocates 0.6% of its GDP to higher education. This is nothing compared to what countries similar to ours in terms of wealth actually do. The fact is that our universities are in dire need of recapitalization. A commission then chaired by our current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa reached the same conclusion some years ago. Nothing has been done.

We cannot keep vilifying our VCs as if all the keys were in their hands. On a number of issues our universities are currently facing, many of us are happy holding the wrong stick and whipping the wrong target while banging our own heads on the wrong door. Universities and especially their VCs are becoming too soft targets for those of us whose analysis is faulty.

Some universities have gone a long way establishing new funding mechanisms to recruit a new generation of black scholars, to support those who are already in the system and provide incentives for their promotion. Why can’t we support this, and put pressure on the government and private sector and challenge each to match every single cent provided by universities for this project? For sure this would reflect a better reading of the extent to which market and state have a responsibility in investing in our collective future. But as I said, it is easy to target hapless and softer targets rather than attacking the structural constraints as such.

Last evening one of the students spoke eloquently about crucial ways in which black students from disadvantaged class backgrounds could be supported. The drama of students going hungry on our campuses is heart wrenching. Many sleep in classrooms or libraries. Food and shelter for all our students is a demand that should be made to universities, government and private sector. At Wits we do have less than 6 000 beds for a student population well above 25 000. Where should the resources come from in order to provide shelter if the university is not recapitalized? Well, they can only come from a tuition increase, which means keeping more students away from the doors of learning.

Whatever the case, there are to be something more to our arguments on transformation/decolonization than complaint. We need to sharpen our analysis of the contradictions in higher education at the age of neoliberalism and global apartheid.

And as new voices of fire clamor to be listened to, let not lit this fire with hate, but with a strong will to lift each other.

The vilification and demonization of Vice Chancellors, or calls to deal with them with ‘one bullet’ in a country in which the death penalty has been abolished – all of this is but a tragic expression of the nihilism that, today, passes for radicalism.

Neither Adam Habib, nor Max Price, Jonathan Jansen and countless others are enemies. We seriously damage the cause of justice and fairness, and therefore our own cause, if we repeat in our own call for liberation the strictures of hate black people in particular have subjected to for so long. A struggle without a strong moral core can only lead to disaster.

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Penny Siopis Looks Back on Her Work with the Sense that “Time is not Really Linear” (Video)

Penny SiopisPenny Siopis was recently featured on Morning Live to speak about her latest exhibition, Time and Again.

The exhibition, which is also the subject of Penny Siopis: Time and Again edited by Gerrit Olivier, is a retrospective of Siopis’ work.

In her conversation with Lebo Thinane, Siopis explains what the phrase “Time and again” means to her. She says when you look back at your work, “you don’t just see time unfolding, and your work as an artist developing in a logical way.”

Usually, Siopis says, there is a “pattern of going back and repeating similar things, but in fact it’s never the same,” giving the sense that “time is not really linear”.

Watch the video:

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Lewis Gordon, Author of What Fanon Said, Criticises the “De-intellectualisation” of Black Authors

What Fanon SaidLewis Gordon’s What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to his Life and Thought has recently been published by Wits University Press.

Ngugi wa Thiong’s said of the book: “In the hands of Lewis Gordon, What Fanon Said becomes what Frantz Fanon says to us today.

“The book brings alive the revolutionary thought and practice of Fanon into the continuing struggles for structural economic, political, social and psychic transformations of our world. The struggle against anti-black racism is an integral part of it and Gordon’s Fanon is the many-sided thinker who saw it all and gave it words of fire.”

Gordon, who is Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut and Nelson Mandela Distinguished Visiting Professor at Rhodes University, spoke to Wits University Press about why he wrote the book:

I was part of a movement that argued the following: a genuinely great thinker offers ideas on which to build. My relationship with Fanon was primarily through using arguments from his thought that I found useful for my own intellectual work. I noticed, however, the emergence of Fanon studies proper, and debates in that area of study often hinged on things he was accused of saying or writing that he actually did not say or write and in other cases varieties of misinterpretations in translations from French to other languages.

I was invited by another publisher to write a book on what Fanon “really” said, but it turned out they wanted a very non-intellectual book on Fanon, which I considered an insult to his memory as well as to what I have argued against – namely, the tendency to de-intellectualise the work of black authors through seeking theory from white ones and only experience from black ones.

I thus decided, as I did in my book An Introduction to Africana Philosophy (2008), to write, in philosophical terms, a genuine philosophical introduction to his thought. The question of an intellectual history of black thinkers requires a philosophy of intellectual history, which I argued for and in fact introduced under the guise of “an introduction” in the earlier book, but for Fanon, the additions also involve a philosophical biography, for Fanon’s life posed complicated questions of how disciplines meet to study a life.

I thus used ideas from my book Disciplinary Decadence, in which I argued for an approach of, paradoxically, building a philosophy beyond philosophy. Fanon’s life and even his “after life,” if we will, are heavily political, which makes the task not only one of a philosophy of biography but also a theory of political biography and, by extension, political history.

So, I wrote this book as a project with several aims: (1) articulating a philosophical political intellectual biography not only of Fanon and his thought but also of ideas stimulated by that thought, which means a portrait of Fanon studies as well; (2) exploring the problem of what is involved in studying a thinker from the Global South and demonstrating the scale of fields, disciplines, and political events affected by that thinker; (3) demonstrating Fanon’s continued relevance theoretical and political relevance; and along the way it occurred to me that the book was completed in time to serve also as a celebration of (4) Fanon’s 90th year.

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Achille Mbembe Warns: There is No Guarantee that Marikana will not be Repeated

On the PostcolonyAchille Mbembe has written a piece for City Press considering the Marikana Massacre in the wider context of South Africa today.

August 16 marked exactly three years since 34 striking miners were tragically shot and killed by police in Marikana. Mbembe writes: “As things stand, there is absolutely no guarantee that there will not be a repeat of Marikana.”

Mbembe, a philosopher, political scientist and public intellectual based at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, whose seminal text On the Postcolony was recently re-released, says South Africa’s “history of institutionalised racism” means we come from a past in which the law did not protect everyone equally, and the “execution of black men and women in this country was not accidental – it was always politically determined”. Taking in South Africa’s new political economy, in which the “processes of accumulation, privatisation and deregulation” are happening through “chaos and disorder”, Mbembe says: “What we call corruption is a key device in this new political economy.”

Mbembe says South Africa has become an “armed society”, “devoted to the cult of the gun, or the threat of it”.

Read the piece:

We have yet to come to terms with the full meaning and implications of the Marikana tragedy. Although the report released by the Marikana Commission of Inquiry goes some way towards this goal, the foundational moral dilemmas raised by the loss of every life in this conflict have yet to be properly articulated.

What the world witnessed at Marikana was the extrajudicial execution of South African citizens in a country that had formally abolished the death penalty.

Those who, from all sides, perished had not been indicted. Nor were they brought to any court of justice. No verdict had been pronounced.

Formal or informal, deliberate or spontaneous, the decision to spill their blood and bring their lives to an end did not conform with the fact that, in South Africa, the death penalty had been outlawed.

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“Music, Like the Truth, Will Out” – African Music Authority Percival Kirby Remembered

Instruments of The Kirby Collection

The launch of Musical Instruments of the Indigenous People of South Africa by Percival Kirby at UCT’s South African College of Music recently was a remarkable evening with many high points, including a recital by lecturers and students playing the instruments featured on the pages of the book.

We previously reported on the launch of this important piece of African music history – Drums, Rattles and Mbiras at the Launch of Musical Instruments of the Indigenous People of South Africa – giving an account of the many diverse aspects of the evening.

Anthea van WieringenMusical Instruments of the Indigenous People of South Africa
Another highlight of the event was the personal reflection of the author’s granddaughter, Anthea van Wieringen, who played an integral part of the reissue of the book.

Her presentation revealed a tender recollection from a child’s point of reference, of a jovial character with a multiplicity of talents. Kirby’s vision well exceeded his time and yet it is important to see the context in which the book was originally written.

Kirby loved life and was inexhaustible in his quest to record and save the instruments he saw vanishing before his eyes. Kirby left his mark on the country’s musicians and musicologists and the collection of musical instruments now housed at UCT is an incalculable gift to the nation.

Van Wieringen offers readers a fuller sense of the enormity of the task Percival Kirby undertook:

Percival Kirby was my grandfather. I have been asked for reminiscences about him but he died 45 years ago, so while I remember him very well, my actual memories are mainly those of a child.

I remember that he was very funny – he had a wonderful sense of humour and loved jokes, word play and limericks. If he was here this evening, I imagine that he would be showing off his famous party trick, which was to sing and whistle at the same time. He was short and rotund with a broad Scottish accent and a shock of white hair. I remember him as a kindly grandfather who loved to talk.

After his death, my mother spent many years of her life sorting out his incredible library and ongoing correspondence. Finding a home for the Kirby Collection of Instruments was just one of the multitude of issues she had to deal with. I have continued dealing with his legacy. Kirby has been described to me in various ways – “a character”, “a legend” – and I believe that he was a household name during his years in Johannesburg. Certainly the huge number of newspaper articles about him testify to this.

Percival Kirby was born in 1887 in Aberdeen, in Scotland. He came from a musical and academic family. His father was an organist and choir trainer and his mother a teacher. His early musical education started like many Celtic boys, with the tin whistle and a set of homemade drums. After training as a primary school teacher and gaining a Master of Arts in Aberdeen, he went to the Royal College of Music in London where he studied the flute and the piano, and composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. He was by then a professional timpanist having spent a lot of time playing in various orchestras in Aberdeen and having devised a new method for tuning the timpani.

He came to the Natal Colony in 1914 as the Inspector of Music in Schools. In 1921 he was appointed to Wits University to start the music department and he remained there until his retirement in 1952.

Kirby was an extraordinarily dynamic, energetic and inexhaustible person. He only needed about four hours of sleep per night and he filled up the rest of the time with his many pursuits. He was fascinated by so many things, incredibly brilliant and throughout his life he pursued a huge variety of research subjects in a meticulous and detailed way. His life in Johannesburg was filled with developing the music department at Wits, teaching and examining all around the country, conducting, performing, composing incidental music and producing plays and operas almost annually. He was President of the Museums Association and of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science and he was co-founder and co-conductor of the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra.

His research topics were extensive and in no way restricted to music. Articles and books were written on “The Kettledrums”, “The Trumpets of Tutankhamen”, “Sir Andrew Smith”, “Le Vaillant”, “Saartjie Baartman”, “Dr James Barry”, “Captain Gordon, the Flute-Maker”, and “The Wreck of the Grosvenor”. His interest in indigenous music which started when he was in Natal, continued at Wits. He undertook many trips to Venda land, Bechuanaland, Swaziland, the Northern Transvaal and Bloemhof in his Model T-Ford in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The book, the culmination of this research, was written in three months in 1933.

He was widely acknowledged during his lifetime as an authority on African Music and had many honours conferred upon him. Some of these were; The South African Medal for his outstanding scientific research; the Dvorak Medal from the Society of Composers of Czechoslovakia in Prague. He had an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from Rhodes, and of Music from Wits conferred upon him. He was also elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

He loved collecting – manuscripts, books and musical instruments. His library was a phenomenal collection of books on a diverse variety of topics, manuscripts, scores and first editions of many precious books. The instrument collection was primarily of the instruments that he heard, learned to play and were either given to him or bought from the local chiefs. There are about 600 African instruments, making this collection the most comprehensive and compete collection of instruments from Southern Africa, in the world. Over the years, he acquired all sorts of instruments from Europe as well and they too form part of the collection.

He had a couple of sayings that he loved. One was “Music will out”. He was a firm believer that musical talent could not be suppressed. And then I found a variation “Music, like the truth, will out” and yet another, “Music, like murder, will out”. While he was an academic, Kirby was also an excellent practical musician. In his autobiography Wits End he writes that, “A practical musician is rather like a man-eating tiger, who, having once tasted human blood, cannot do without it.” He continued to play the flute well into his late 70s, playing in ad hoc orchestras in Grahamstown where he had retired. It seems that he could play anything and in Wits End I found a passage where he writes about playing the viola part in a Mozart string quartet.

Most importantly Kirby loved life – he had fun researching, writing, composing, teaching, conducting, performing as a flautist and timpanist, producing plays, musicals and operas, telling jokes, building his houses, making chairs and icing cakes. As he writes in Wits End, “My many interests have enabled me to get a great kick out of life.” In writing about the dangers of superficiality from having too many interests, he states that “I hope that I may have succeeded in completing some investigations which are of some permanent value”. I think that he would be pleased to know that this is indeed true.

The Musical Instruments of the Indigenous People of South Africa was first published in 1934 – 81 years ago. Some years ago, thanks to comments made by Carol Muller of the University of Pennsylvania and Tracey Wheeler of Solms-Delta, I realised that a new edition of this timeless and irreplaceable book was necessary. It had been out of print for many years and because of the changing shape of South African society, this incredible document of life and music in South Africa before 1933, remains the definitive work on the topic.

A lot of time was spent sourcing the correct photographic negatives (my thanks to Leslie Hart for her help) and rescanning them, as the original plates were destroyed. The photographs have been moved from being plates at the back of the book, to within the text. The musical examples had to be reset using Sibelius and the text scanned. The text has remained unchanged.

It has been a great honour and a privilege to bring this extraordinary work to light again and I would like to thank Veronica Klipp and Melanie Pequeux of Wits Press for making this publication possible and to Karen Lilje for the text design and layout.

My thanks also go to Michael Nixon for being such a meticulous curator of the precious and irreplaceable collection and to Rebekkah Sandmeier for helping to host and organize this event.

Finally, Kirby had a son and a daughter, and I am glad to say, that of his descendants, two grandchildren, four great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren are here today.

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Image of Percival Kirby courtesy of The Archival Platform

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Achille Mbembe to Deliver a Lecture Titled “South Africa’s Fanonian Moment” at the University of Pretoria

On the PostcolonyProfessor Achille Mbembe, from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, will be delivering a lecture at the University of Pretoria.

Mbembe’s lecture is titled “South Africa’s Fanonian Moment”. The event will be hosted by the University of Pretoria Department of Sociology.

Copies of a revised edition of On the Postcolony will be available for sale on the day of the seminar. R250 will get you a copy which goes for R290 in the bookshops. A credit card facility will also be available.

Don’t miss it.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 20 August 2015
  • Time: 11 AM to 12:30 PM
  • Venue: Seminar Room 19-14
    19th Floor, Humanities Building
    University of Pretoria
    cnr Lynnwood Road and Roper Street
  • RSVP: Sepetla Molapo,, 012 420 2960

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Waarom is Johannesburg nie ’n wêreldklas-stad nie? Adam Habib vertel

South Africa's Suspended RevolutionRewolusie op ysNtwa ya Boitseko e Fanyehuweng ya Afrika BorwaInguqukombuso YeNingizimu Afrika Eyabondwa Yashiywa

Gys Visser het onlangs vyf vrae aan Adam Habib gestel oor die kwessies wat hy in sy toespraak by die jaarlikse arbeidsreg-konferensie in Sandton aangepak het.

Die skrywer en visekanselier van die Universiteit van die Witwatersrand deel sy sienings oor onder meer swart ekonomiese bemagtiging, die Nasionale Ontwikkelingsplan en waarom Johannesburg nie ’n wêreldklas-stad is nie.

Oor die verhouding tussen die private sektor, arbeidsektor en regering meen Habib dat Suid-Afrika “’n desperate behoefte” het aan die “soort ooreenkomste en leierskap wat in die era van Mandela en De Klerk bestaan het”.

Lees die artikel:

3. Waarom sê jy is Johannesburg nie ’n wêreldklas-stad nie?

Die Johannesburgse stadsraad kan nie ’n beter stad deur bemarking bou nie, maar net deur beter dienslewering. Die oprigting van Steyn City wys dat die middelklas bereid is om te betaal om van die stad se probleme ontslae te raak.


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Violence, Condemnation, and the Meaning of Living in South Africa – An Excerpt from Go Home or Die Here

Go Home or Die HereGo Home or Die Here: Violence, Xenophobia and the Reinvention of Difference in South Africa, edited by Tawana Kupe, Eric Worby and Shireen Hassim, was published in 2008 after the eruption of xenophobic violence in South Africa. However, the publication remains as relevant today as it was then.

Ruth Bhengu, chair of the parliamentary committee set up to probe violence against foreigners, recently questioned the use of the word “xenophobia” to describe the attitudes of many South Africans to immigrants and refugees from the rest of Africa.

“As journalists, you must refrain from using xenophobia because it means having extreme hatred which we don’t have as South Africans,” she said, continuing:

“We must move away from this xenophobic word because it brings us to the wars and makes it seem like South Africans hate foreigners when we have lived with whites and Indians who we don’t know where they come from. We are proudly South African and we accommodated those who came from all over, therefore it is not correct to judge and say South Africans are xenophobic and prevents us from moving forward. Media must report that it’s just attacks, not xenophobic attacks, which shifts the focus from the real issues.”

Although in agreement that Bhengu “was right to ask whether this phrase was accurate and helpful”, Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University Anton Harber argues that her view “sounds like denialism rather than trying to avoid harmful labelling”:

One does not have to go far to hear anger expressed by many South Africans against immigrants, legal or illegal, who are competing for jobs and trade. This needs to be dealt with head-on. While it is true some violence is the result of criminal opportunism, I have little doubt that one of the results of our many years of isolation and the lingering belief in our exceptionalism in Africa, is a suspicion, or even hostility, towards outsiders.

In a piece from Go Home or Die Here titled “Violence, condemnation, and the meaning of living in South Africa”, Loren B Landau says: “The divisions among self-exclusion, cosmopolitan citizenship and ethnic nationalism are dangerous ones – not only as differences in values, but because they map so closely with class, race and nationality.

“As such, they provide tectonic faults that may result in far greater disruptions. With an increasingly centralised and unpopular political party mandated to span the divides, it may not be long before we hear more than the distant roar of battle.”

Read the chapter:

Violence, condemnation, and the meaning of living in South Africa by Loren B Landau

Refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, illegals, border jumpers, displacees, Nigerians, aliens, amakwerekwere have long been on South Africans’ minds. For many they are primarily groups to be feared, disdained, occasionally pitied, often exploited and seen as a threat to the country’s wealth and health. The country’s government and much of its civil society has long turned a blind eye to foreigners’ systematic marginalisation, mass deportation (close to 300 000 people in 2007) and the ever more rapid and rabid murders at the hands of the country’s citizenry.

When the government did react to violence against foreigners, its responses were two-faced: chastising communities for their intolerance while accelerating arrests and removals.[1] In a nationally broadcast speech on 25 May, President Thabo Mbeki encouraged South Africans to ‘… build on the tradition of many decades of integrating our foreign guests within our communities’.[2] Given the history of exploitation, alienation, and expulsion, it is hard to imagine where he (or anyone else) got the idea that government or citizens have ever promoted the peaceful integration of migrants into South African society.

But my concern here is not with the long-term disregard for migrants’ rights and welfare. Nor is it to condemn the initial denialism of crisis or the tardy and ineffective efforts to help those who were violently displaced.[3] Rather, this piece considers what the responses by South African citizens and institutions reveal about being from and living in South Africa.


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Katarina Hedren: African Filmmakers Spend Most of Their Time Trying to Find Money (Gaze Regimes Excerpt)

Gaze RegimesRead an excerpt from Gaze Regimes: Film and Feminisms in Africa, in which editors Antje Schuhmann and Jyoti Mistry interview Katarina Hedrén about the challenges of filmmaking in Africa.

Gaze Regimes is described as a “bricolage of essays and interviews”, focusing on the experiences of women working in film on the continent.

Hedrén, who describes herself as “a Swede of Ethiopian origin based in South Africa”, is a film programmer, festival organiser, writer and translator. In the interview, she refers to some of the difficulties faced by African filmmakers, who she says “often spend more time trying to find money than focusing on aesthetics and storytelling concerns”.

She also refers to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s theory of the danger of the “single story”, which the Nigerian author – who’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun was adapted into film - explained in an excellent TED Talk a few years ago.

“That story is one that portrays Africa as a place of misery without nuance or subtlety,” Hedrén says. “Films like The Constant Gardener (2005) by Fernando Meirelles or Susanne Bier’s Oscar-winning film In a Better World (2010), both made by accomplished filmmakers, illustrate this danger.

“This single story is a threat both to Africans who are reduced to tired stereotypes, and filmmakers, who become so distracted by fantasies that they lose the capacity to skilfully portray countries and human beings who happen to be African in nuanced and complex ways.”

Read the excerpt:

Women, use the gaze to change reality by Books LIVE

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