DIE UITGESPOELDES

This book by the late South African writer has been washed up upon the shores of my plot and reached a place at my shelves, far away from the raging sea and the turbulence of identity.

Matthee relates the story of Moses Swart who was found as a very young boy at the bay when a ship sunk at the southernmost coast of South Africa. People took care of him and of all the things that arrived with the little boy, a little over a hundred years ago.  

We meet Moses in his later years when he works at the estate of Lord and Lady De Saumarez. They belong to the upperclass of the British establishment, but they have decided to wash up upon the shores of South Africa after an eventful life, passing through two world wars. They look for peace and tranquility at the estate they bought and are renovating. 

Moses was destined to be a shepherd, just like his adoptive father, but he does not have the connection with sheep and he is happy to get a job at the nearby estate of Lor4d and Lady. He becomes a kind of confidant of the Lord, he feels at home in the mighty house and in the expansive gardens.

One day two men come poking around in the area, trying to find out more about the shipwrecks and any survivors. Moses keeps shtum. Are these men the answer to his past? But at the same time he does not want to know the answer to his questions and his ancestry.

So in a way this book is about identity, but also about class relations and the way people from different backgrounds interact with oneanother. 

The story continues in the present, but with many flashbacks to give more body to the past of Lord and Lady and their children.  Quite a few times I thought about the development of the story that the content ( in a strict way) is good, but the way it is handled the book never reaches that level. At its best it reaches bronze. 

Dalene Matthee – Die uitgespoeldes – 2005

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor die uitgespoelde dalene matthee

N’ZID

A woman awakes aboard a sailingvessel on a vast expanse of water.

Who is she?
Where is she?
What has happened in her recent past?

She start a journey (a physical one and a mental one) to find an answer to her pertinent questions. She is compltely at ease on the sailingvessel. She knows the vesssel. She start investigating the content of the boat. She finds papers and documents. Is she the one in the documents? Or is she somenone else?

When she arrives in a harbour she invents anh identity: she is a Lebanese painter. She has skills in painting and drawing, so it is not farfetched. She meets a sailorman, Loïc Lemoine, who warns her that two men are looking out for her and asking questions on the mariphone. Even the police is on the hunt.

She sails on and this man Loïc follows her at a great distance. From one harbour top the next, she is moving and reinventing herself.

Where are the men in her life ? The musician Jamil, who went to tour in his motherland Algeria. Jean Rolland, a Frenchman born in Algeria, who went back to his roots. 

It is a story about identity. Where does she belong with her Irish father, her Algerian mother and her French roots and upbringing?  Or does she belong to the sea, where she feels most at home? She tries to find answers when the winds are blowing to fill the sails.

At times this book by Malika Mokeddem (1949) is a confusing book. What is happening? Is there a storyline to be found or does the story justy amble on? At times the emotions of the characters change very abruptely. Still, I kept on reading trying to find out more about this sailorgirl and the people in her vincinity. And to find out her identity and her commitments.

The sole word that forms the title of this book means ‘I will continue’, but also ‘I am born’. Two ways in a way to define her search for identity.

Malika Mokeddem – N’zid – 2001

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor N'zid malika mokeddem

RAAISELKIND

What a brilliant book about this raaiselkind (child of enigma). This Alexander (or Boetatjie, as the maid Miriam calls him) is the third child and first son of Dawid and Ingrid Dorfling, who live in a small town or village in South Africa. Dawid is the chef at the local Postoffice and Ingrid works at a local bankoffice. Both of them are very much part of the local community and the local church.

Their first two children are girls: Teresa and Zetta. Life is normal and accomplished. The third child is Alexander and the parents are filled with joy. But after the joy and the excitement things slowly change as they see the development (or the lack of development) of their son.

The book start nearly at the end, on a Friday. Ingrid is at the local buraaus of the police for she is suspected of having drowned her son. We trace her steps during that weekend that she is being interviewed (good cop and bad cop , mainly bad cop)  on what happened on that fateful day. She has to reveal all on her life, her marriage with Dawid, her attitude towards her daughters, her attitude towards Alexander, her position in the local community, her relationship towards the church and its pastor. All needs to be revealed, according the policeman, in order to get a complete picture and to be convinced that Ingrid is the one who drowned young Alexander, in the bathtub at home.

These interviews serve as a frame work to recount her life, her hopes, her love, her marriage to Dawid (who commits suicide), her maid Miriam, her struggle to understand Alexander, her search to find a diagnosis for his extraordinary behaviour, till the boy is diagnosed with autism, her search for an education, for help, for a life.

We also follow the interviews of Miriam, the maid, who has a special relationship with the boy. She is able to get some contact with him and he is able to learn something with her help. In a way she is the one who has a clever understanding of what the police is aiming at and she wants to protect Ingrid.

We also meet Gunter, a farmer who stays outside the local community, who also has a special relationship with Alexander. The boy obeys him, and rides a horse at his farm.

The search for the truth continues. Did Ingrid murder her son, to end a very, very difficult situation?

I will not say a word about the end of this intriguing novel.

At times this novel reminded me of the great novel by Marlene van Niekerk  ‘Agaat’, especially in the way Miriam relates to Alexander, as a token of the way people cross barriers and see one another and the possibilities of the others, a bridge across cultures and social barriers.

Annelie Botes- Raaiselkind – 2003

L’ANGE AVEUGLE

At times I am a bit doubtful if a book should be part of this books from and about Africa. This book has been written by Tahar ben Jelloun, he was born in Fez (1944) so his place of birth is no problem. He lives in France and the content of this book is about crime-life in southern parts of Italy. I havbe read other books by ben Jelloun and these books had a closer link with Africa. I will give this book with a clear conscience the benefit of the doubt.

In this book the writer tells that he was offered a job to write articles about organized crime in southern Italy. An Italian newspaper thought it worthwhile to enlighten its readers about these violent and  oppresive issues. In these fourteen stories in this book we find a mixture of fact and fiction, ben Jelloun has favoured a literary approach and he has done so in a beautiful way. 

The titel of this collection refers to an innocent young victim of violent crime, who helps people as an angel. Ben Jelloun writes about old people in a world that has been corupted by violence and the threats of violence and extortion.  He writes about young people, about the dubious role of the church and about women in this masculine world. He writes about crimefighters, about people who stand up to violence, but have to leave in order to save their life.

Crime does not bypass anyone. It absorbs a whole society. It ruins a whole society. It ruins each and every man and woman and child. It has infiltrated the bone and marrow of society. Corruption and violence has become society. It has become the end of society.

Tahar ben Jelloun – L’ange aveugle – 1992 

THE QUARRY

It is an increasing problem in countries where people make use of the modern ways of communications. Theft of identity. We hear about victims who lose a lot of money, who get into problems with the police, who feel they have lost control of their life.

In this book by the South African writer Damon Galgut we encounter a case of identity theft. The victim is a wayward pastor who is on his way to new posting in a rural church. On his way to his new place of work this single man takes on board a hitchhiker, who is heading into the same direction. 

With this encounter we are drawn into a carefully crafted story of a life lost and a life gained. The new pastor (is he really the new pastor?) starts his work in this old church and he attracts many people to his church. 

We also meet Mong, a local police-inspector, who had met the couple in a raodside café. He digs into the identity of the pastor and follows his steps and talks to him in a friendly way, to find out more.

The book is written with clarity, it is very clear, but the longer I read the more I realized that this is a deception.  The clarity led me on winding roads, to backyards, and slums and churches and fields and a quarry. It became clear to me that the clarity describes a mystery, is a mystery. When I travelled on the roads written by Galgut I could not relax for one moment, I had to be on top of the story, otherwise it slipped away. It is clear and it is a mystery.

A job well done by Damon Galgut. 

Damon Galgut – The Quarry – 1995

BITTER FRUIT

I just read another good book written by the author Achmat Dangor, who hails from South Africa (1948), but who has worked for many years in the Swiss town of Geneva. South Africa is still in his mind and in his heart. This book, about the bitter fruits of the independence after the years of apartheid rule, gained him the Booker Prize 2004.

People were elated when the walls of apartheid fell. People rejoiced in the streets, the slums and in the posh areas, on the tarmac and on the dirtroad, on the beach and in the field. A new day dawned. The fruit of the new dispensation was ready to be picked. And people picked and picked, but not everyone was near a fruit tree. Some has already picked in the past, when the lines were drawn. They had crossed lines, were on the safe side, on the side of the comrades, now they wanted to be harvesters on a grand scale, temporarily forgetting their brothers and sisters and farflung relations. 

Achmat Dangor describes life after the fall of apartheid. Old ghosts appear in the streets, white men shuffle to different tunes as in the past. An old apartheid officer had raped Lydia, the wife-to-be of Silas. Now Silas meets the old man, 20 years later, in a shoppingmall. Old wounds have never faded away, realizes Lydia when she hears about this old man. 

Upward mobility, new civil service upstarts, everyone wants to have part of the fruits, these fruits look so sweet. But the rot has settled deep down beneath the colourful skin of the fruit. The stench is not noticable for the casual passerby. 

We read about relations in the extended family, old comrades, new ties, old establishments. In the olden days people carried each others burdens and responsibilities, but it is each man and each woman and each child on its own. Your burden is yours and yours alone. 

What has ever changed, but the skin of things? Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Achebe revisited. Relations crumble. Old ties snap. Nothing is able to stand the times of change of the winds of change. Ideals are buried by the wayside, as an afterthought. Everyone struggles for his and her and its square foot of life and land and future. 

The fruit has been picked, some filled one basket, some filled a thousand baskets. But bitter is the fruit, for each and every picker. Read, and shiver underneath the tree.

Achmat Dangor – Bitter Fruit – 2004

THE CAIRO HOUSE

The house does exist in Cairo, in the Garden City.

The house is the center of life and the center of the family and the extended family and an elite and a political ruling class.  It is the house Samia writes about, drawing on het personal memories, and moulding it into a novel, an autobiographical novel.

At the center of the novel is Gigi, a woman who returns to the country of her birth, i.e. Egypt. She left her son when she the country and moved abroad. She was to reunite with her son, who stayed with his father in Egypt (maybe the son will come with her to the United States of America) and the visit the old places, like the House, the seat of the Pasha, as it was in the olden days.

We swerve from the present to the past, bound by memories and political developments. We creep back to the 23rd of July in the year 1961. President Nasser delivers a speech. It is the beginning of the end of the extended well-to-d0 politically connected family. Relatives are sent to an internmentcamp, possessions are sold by the governemnt. Their private empire crumbles. Their empire in the upperclass, with a French accent.

We even journey further back into time, back to the early fifties, the days that the family was climbing the sports of succes and influence and status. The family is filled with modernity and at the same time aware that the old traditions should not fade away in the glaring sun of the Egyptian metropoles. 

It is a story of the past and finding your roots in a new world, with or without your relatives and your inward traditions. Gigi travels to Egypt, is she travelling home or is she now leaving home. She cannot answer that question. The two countries and the two identities and these different cultures are present in her life.

Changes came to the country of Egypt, upheavals from a monarchy, to the military, from one dictatorship to the next. Has anything changed? 

This book would have even been better with a family tree, nicely at the beginning or the end. A tree rooted in Egypt, at the banks of the Nile, and branches till the ends of the earth. 

Samia Serageldin – The Cairo House – 2000