TDA February Book Review


Our South African employee, Astrid Stark, returns this month with her popular book review.

‘And now for something completely different,’ as Monthy Python would nasally proclaim. This is not your average travel book; it doesn’t follow the adventures of an intrepid, authentic travel writer into the underbelly of some previously unexplored jungle, or give you ‘insider’ tips on where to go and when and why. Instead, it is a fictional story by a relatively unknown South African writer that subtly sucks you into a very real and very scary South Africa in the 80’s as experienced through the lives of two siblings.

Our 11th Tour d’Afrique journey from Cairo to Cape Town is currently in Ethiopia and if you have any interest in South African history, are planning a trip to this country, love a good story, and well-written words, you will enjoy this. Her story is nothing new. It’s just the way things were back then for us in South Africa.  Yet the magic of this book is in the writing, her words flow across the page like the lyrics of a song and the desperate rhythm of a country under siege beats furiously underneath it all.  Boy grows up under an oppressive racist father and joins the South African elite forces to fight the ‘swart gevaar’ – black danger. His younger sister joins the resistance. All hell breaks loose.  Pretty basic. But through it you are introduced to a vital part of the bushmen culture as the boy is tutored by an elderly bushmen in the ways of land, the politics of the time and a patriarchal society on the verge of collapse.

“Bush people disappear. They dance through cracks and faults in the rock. They go through tunnels to the spirit world and when they come out at the other side there’s light and lands of forests, lakes and rivers and strange cities bright as day.
‘I don’t think it is possible, his mother says.

‘I think it is,’ says Conrad. ‘You have to know how to do it. That is all.”

Conrad is the boy who joins the elite forces and is part of a team that murdered informers in the bush, some of them descendants of bushmen.  Jooste weaves in bushmen rituals and dreams and the politics, and the zeitgeist and you sometimes have to go back and re-read a chapter to fully grasp it all. It is a really grounded novel. It just seems to simply take flight at times. Not as heavy as it sounds, there is plenty of gently humour throughout to lift it out of its heavy subject matter.  There is even a chapter dedicated to the ghost in the house called, ‘The Old Madam’, and we get to meet the family from her perspective – witty and charming. This is a lovely read where magic and realism seamlessly dance through a South African landscape and its characters.


— Astrid Stark

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