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Category Archive for 'South Africa'

An unusually strong war novel which ranks with the very best, To Hell with Cronje by Ingrid Winterbach shows characters whose lives have been permanently changed by the Second Boer War (1899 – 1902), and raises the question of whether any of them—men, women, and children–will ever be able return to a peaceful life after the brutality which has created a new “normal” within their nation. How, she asks, can one cope with the horrors of war on any level? What resources can men develop that might allow them to survive personally? Four Boer soldiers who have served in a variety of fortified camps (laagers), with an assortment of career officers–mostly incompetent, in their opinion–have set out on a mission to return young Abraham Fourche to his mother in Ladybrand. Not quite twenty, Abraham has witnessed the horrifying death of his brother during the devastating Battle of Droogleegte, and he is now shell-shocked, mute, and unresponsive. (On my Favorites List for 2010)

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In his best and most complex novel yet, Afrikaans-writer Deon Meyer recreates a mere thirteen hours of life in Cape Town, South Africa, hour by terrifying hour, and those thirteen hours reveal more about the city’s many criminal cultures than you may want to know. The police are only partially effective. Following scandals which plagued the police department and resulted in corruption convictions for some key officers, the National Commissioner has established a new police force, the South African Police Service (SAPS), retaining their best and most experienced officers within new departments, the duties of which are not always clear. Meyer involves his reader in the action from the opening pages, in which a young girl, still in her teens, is tearing through the city, begging for help from people she sees, as she tries to escape five or six young men who are pursuing her. And she’s the lucky one. Her companion, who was also trying to escape, was not so fast. She lies dead, her throat slit and her backpack stolen.

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Winner of major literary awards throughout France, where author Caryl Ferey lives, Zulu is a powerful novel set in South Africa in the early 1990s when the country was in its transition between the rule of apartheid, governed by white Boers, and the rule of Africans, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, newly released from prison. The transition is not exactly smooth, and the transfer of power is not automatic. The ANC (African National Congress, under Mandela) needs the former white rulers to maintain control in many areas—and, presumably, to preserve the peace–and these whites quickly establish their own militias to protect themselves and to act on “infractions” or threats to the “peace” as they see it. To the surprise of many, the defeat of apartheid inspires other African movements, like Inkatha, also to challenge the ANC, leading to civil conflict for power within the black movements. Ordinary black citizens become unsure where their loyalties really lie, and as violence grows, not only between the conflicting black movements but also among the conservative Boers and the black community, no one can be really sure where the violence afflicting the cities really originates.

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Deon Meyers just keeps getting better and better with each thriller. Setting his novels in contemporary South Africa, he raises the bar for thrillers by infusing each of his novels with national political tensions—historical, racial, and economic—emphasizing the urban and rural disparities which make the country so complex and so difficult to govern. Main character Lemmer, working for Body Armor, the premier bodyguard service in the country, has been hired to guard Emma le Roux, a wealthy young woman who, after seeing a news story on TV, believes that her brother Jacobus le Roux, thought dead for twenty years, is, in fact, alive—and a suspect, under an assumed name, in a mass murder in Kruger National Park. Emma herself has recently been targeted by unknown assassins and has barely escaped from her house after a violent attempt on her life. This is a terrific and unusual thriller, the fifth of Meyer’s novels, all of which are written in Afrikaans and translated.

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South Africa from 1968 – 2000 is revealed with all its cultural variety and internal stresses through the life story of Paul Sweetbread, an overweight Jewish boy who is an outsider to everyone. Neither a Boer nor an Englishman, he is also not really a Jew, either, since his family has never been observant, leaving him without any common roots that connect him to his Caucasian countrymen. A person with a photographic memory, he is, from the outset, a victim of his memory. The action intensifies when Paul, having finished school in 1987, joins the South African Defense Force, instead of going to college. In bordering Namibia, formerly a German colony, revolutionaries are taking advantage of the confusion over who is in control–South Africa, the United Nations, or whoever can grab power for himself–and Paul is sent there to fight.

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