Matthew Gavin Frank is a writer and author of the book, Flight of the Diamond Smugglers: A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa.
For nearly eighty years, a huge portion of coastal South Africa was closed off to the public. With many of its pits now deemed “overmined” and abandoned, American journalist Matthew Gavin Frank sets out across the infamous Diamond Coast to investigate an illicit trade that supplies a global market. Immediately, he became intrigued by the ingenious methods used in facilitating smuggling?particularly, the illegal act of sneaking carrier pigeons onto mine property, affixing diamonds to their feet, and sending them into the air. Entering Die Sperrgebiet (“The Forbidden Zone”) is like entering an eerie ghost town, but Frank is surprised by the number of people willing―even eager―to talk with him. Soon he meets Msizi, a young diamond digger, and his pigeon, Bartholomew, who helps him steal diamonds. It’s a deadly game: pigeons are shot on sight by mine security, and Msizi knows of smugglers who have disappeared because of their crimes. For this, Msizi blames “Mr. Lester,” an evil tall-tale figure of mythic proportions. From the mining towns of Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth, through the “halfway” desert, to Kleinzee’s shores littered with shipwrecks, Frank investigates a long overlooked story. Weaving interviews with local diamond miners who raise pigeons in secret with harrowing anecdotes from former heads of security, environmental managers, and vigilante pigeon hunters, Frank reveals how these feathered bandits became outlaws in every mining town. Interwoven throughout this obsessive quest are epic legends in which pigeons and diamonds intersect, such as that of Krishna’s famed diamond Koh-i-Noor, the Mountain of Light, and that of the Cherokee serpent Uktena. In these strange connections, where truth forever tangles with the lore of centuries past, Frank is able to contextualize the personal grief that sent him, with his wife Louisa in the passenger seat, on this enlightening journey across parched lands. Blending elements of reportage, memoir, and incantation, Flight of the Diamond Smugglers: A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa (Liveright, 2021) is a rare and remarkable portrait of exploitation and greed in one of the most dangerous areas of coastal South Africa. With his sovereign prose and insatiable curiosity, Matthew Gavin Frank “reminds us that the world is a place of wonder if only we look” (Toby Muse). Emily Anthes is a science journalist and author. Her books include Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts and The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness. Read more about her work at emilyanthes.com or follow her on Twitter at @emilyanthes. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm
Let’s say you had a curiosity about, maybe even a hankering for, Indiana’s signature dessert, sugar cream pie. You might search for it and, on a typical foodie website, find this description, written in typical foodie prose: “As Indiana’s state pie, this rich, nutmeg-dusted custard pie also goes by the name ‘Hoosier Pie.’ Born from Amish and Shaker communities that settled in Indiana in the 1800s, this “desperation pie”–a category that refers to pies made when fresh fruit wasn’t available or money was short–is as simple as it is delicious.” Now, sugar cream pie may be delicious, but there’s nothing delicious, nothing delectable, in that description. Compare that to the one Matthew Gavin Frank offers in his new book, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour through America’s Food (Liveright, 2015): “Our Hoosier Cream Pie is so soft we can cut it with our pinkies. So sweet, we can think only of how it moves us, speeds our hearts, allows us to run from towns called Amboy and Amo, Trafalgar and Troy. Running, we can think of all our dead aunts and uncles, all of the filled-in quarries, their ceilings waiting to collapse, the kinds of state histories buried beneath rock and dust and tablespoons of sugar we allow to burn, harden, lacquer the tops of our Hoosier Cream Pies.” Frank’s description is no historical tidbit or bland factoid. It’s something more like a tribute, though only if a tribute can embrace the sadness of what it celebrates, the troubled soul beneath its shinning surface. And, like the rest of Frank’s book, it’s wonderfully written. Here’s a food writer who cares as much about the words on the page as the food in our mouths. And the result of Frank’s attention to both is a book that gives us a fresh look at America and its food. Frank takes up fifty signature dishes from fifty states in fifty essays, each as surprising and engaging as a dish cooked up by a half-crazed, half-genius chef who’s determined that the best tastes make the familiar strange, but no less enticing. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Let’s say you had a curiosity about, maybe even a hankering for, Indiana’s signature dessert, sugar cream pie. You might search for it and, on a typical foodie website, find this description, written in typical foodie prose: “As Indiana’s state pie, this rich, nutmeg-dusted custard pie also goes by the name ‘Hoosier Pie.’ Born from Amish and Shaker communities that settled in Indiana in the 1800s, this “desperation pie”–a category that refers to pies made when fresh fruit wasn’t available or money was short–is as simple as it is delicious.” Now, sugar cream pie may be delicious, but there’s nothing delicious, nothing delectable, in that description. Compare that to the one Matthew Gavin Frank offers in his new book, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour through America’s Food (Liveright, 2015): “Our Hoosier Cream Pie is so soft we can cut it with our pinkies. So sweet, we can think only of how it moves us, speeds our hearts, allows us to run from towns called Amboy and Amo, Trafalgar and Troy. Running, we can think of all our dead aunts and uncles, all of the filled-in quarries, their ceilings waiting to collapse, the kinds of state histories buried beneath rock and dust and tablespoons of sugar we allow to burn, harden, lacquer the tops of our Hoosier Cream Pies.” Frank’s description is no historical tidbit or bland factoid. It’s something more like a tribute, though only if a tribute can embrace the sadness of what it celebrates, the troubled soul beneath its shinning surface. And, like the rest of Frank’s book, it’s wonderfully written. Here’s a food writer who cares as much about the words on the page as the food in our mouths. And the result of Frank’s attention to both is a book that gives us a fresh look at America and its food. Frank takes up fifty signature dishes from fifty states in fifty essays, each as surprising and engaging as a dish cooked up by a half-crazed, half-genius chef who’s determined that the best tastes make the familiar strange, but no less enticing. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm
Let’s say you had a curiosity about, maybe even a hankering for, Indiana’s signature dessert, sugar cream pie. You might search for it and, on a typical foodie website, find this description, written in typical foodie prose: “As Indiana’s state pie, this rich, nutmeg-dusted custard pie also goes by the name ‘Hoosier Pie.’ Born from Amish and Shaker communities that settled in Indiana in the 1800s, this “desperation pie”–a category that refers to pies made when fresh fruit wasn’t available or money was short–is as simple as it is delicious.” Now, sugar cream pie may be delicious, but there’s nothing delicious, nothing delectable, in that description. Compare that to the one Matthew Gavin Frank offers in his new book, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour through America’s Food (Liveright, 2015): “Our Hoosier Cream Pie is so soft we can cut it with our pinkies. So sweet, we can think only of how it moves us, speeds our hearts, allows us to run from towns called Amboy and Amo, Trafalgar and Troy. Running, we can think of all our dead aunts and uncles, all of the filled-in quarries, their ceilings waiting to collapse, the kinds of state histories buried beneath rock and dust and tablespoons of sugar we allow to burn, harden, lacquer the tops of our Hoosier Cream Pies.” Frank’s description is no historical tidbit or bland factoid. It’s something more like a tribute, though only if a tribute can embrace the sadness of what it celebrates, the troubled soul beneath its shinning surface. And, like the rest of Frank’s book, it’s wonderfully written. Here’s a food writer who cares as much about the words on the page as the food in our mouths. And the result of Frank’s attention to both is a book that gives us a fresh look at America and its food. Frank takes up fifty signature dishes from fifty states in fifty essays, each as surprising and engaging as a dish cooked up by a half-crazed, half-genius chef who’s determined that the best tastes make the familiar strange, but no less enticing. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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Creator Details

Episode Count
4
Podcast Count
4
Total Airtime
3 hours, 21 minutes
PCID
Podchaser Creator ID logo 815607