[Sponsored] Five minutes with Sven Axelrad on his new novel God’s Pocket

Sven Axelrad is seldom seen without his dog. His dog and a pen and piece of paper. How else will he be able to write down what is happening in the town of Vivo?

Many readers describe your debut, Buried Treasure, as one of 2023’s literary gems. Was that a surprise to you?

It was a surprise. I knew I had made something that I loved but to have everyone else love it too was a beautiful gift.

In God’s Pocket there are some familiar people and places from your first book. Is this a sequel? And the God referred to in the title is actually … ?

God’s Pocket is set in the town of Vivo. It has the same narrator, but it isn’t a sequel. This time we follow a new cast of characters – a group of five close friends about to start university. Anyone who has read Buried Treasure will notice when we cross paths with the first book, but it isn’t necessary to start with Buried Treasure. As for the God in the title, sadly no, it isn’t the big, black dog who guards the Treasury, but there are many dogs in Vivo and rest assured we will meet a few of them in the new book. One is a Yorkie, worthy of God, I promise.

Tell us more about Filo? He sounds a bit like you?

I’ll admit there are similarities. Filo’s parents are pressuring him to study accounting, but he wants to be a writer. In one of my first auditing jobs, my desk looked out a window onto an abandoned quarry. I used to spend a large portion of my days wondering how deep the water was. Filo is one of five close friends, half of them secretly in love with each other, all young and full of hope. I had a group of friends like that. I think as a writer you unwittingly write yourself into all of it, but the result, thankfully, is better than I am/was. My characters become an amalgamation of my friends (past and present), the people I meet, all their best qualities inseparable from my worst.

Please tell us more about the picture on the cover?

The cover is an old photograph of a young woman full of her own hopes and dreams. She is sitting on a wall in Cape Town with no concept of dramatic irony and no idea of what the future might bring. The young woman is my mother. I am so proud to have her grace the cover of this book. It feels fitting since this is a story laced with nostalgia. I issue a warning, a sentiment echoed by the two old men that sit outside the best cafe in Vivo and comment on what they see: ‘A knife can kill a man, but nostalgia can obliterate him’.

What is the Big Question you are trying to answer through your writing?

If I knew the answer to this, I would be cured of writing altogether. I suspect that it’s a philosophical exercise. I’m looking for a way to make sense of the chaotic, infinitely painful, oftentimes wonderful experience of being alive. That, and I’m having a bit of literary fun.

Can you imagine a world without dogs?

When there are no longer dogs in the world, I will quietly take my leave and hope to follow wherever those good souls have gone to.

God’s Pocket is out now.


This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine about books for book lovers from Penguin Random House South Africa.   

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