by Eleanor Morse
It\’s the 1970\’s and South Africa is deep under apartheid. One of the main characters, Isaac, witnesses the death of his activist friend- shoved in front of a train by members of the South African Defense Force- and flees the country, terrified the repercussions of his presence at the scene will cost him his life. He is smuggled across the border into Botswana and finds the relative peace there surreal. He finds work as a gardener for a white woman, even though he has no experience (was previously a medical student) but an old man who works at another household gives him some tips. Later he\’s left in charge of the house when the woman goes on a research trip to the Okavango Delta- and when she returns he\’s suddenly gone missing. Alice has been facing the disintegration of her marriage, is feeling unsettled from an unplanned tryst she had with a colleague on the trip, and is baffled at Isaac\’s unexplained absence- she hadn\’t known him long but it\’s very out of character. Especially because the white dog who had attached herself to him is still at the house, half-starved, waiting his return. Although acquaintances around her caution Alice to forget Isaac and not get involved, she can\’t let it be and tries to find out what happened to him. Meanwhile her new love interest has also gotten himself into trouble, returning alone to take personal action against what he sees as an outrageous atrocity- the stock fence put up to supposedly prevent hoof and mouth disease from spreading to cattle, blocking a migration route and causing thousands of wild animals to die of thirst. This man\’s impulsive actions, spurred by anger, reminded me of Mark Owens– probably not coincidentally, as the debacle of the fence was actually discovered by the Owenses when they were in the Kalahari. The details of Alice\’s ex-pat life was like Rules of the Wild, but more serious here. I didn\’t find her story quite as interesting as Isaac\’s, and the romance in the middle of everything seemed a bit- unrealistic? but not enough so to bother me. It was a slow one for me to get into, but once I did I found this story, these lives weaving together in subtle ways that gradually intertwine stronger, very compelling. Part of the story takes place in a Jo\’burg prison- it is atrocious and horrific, but thankfully there are not too many details of the suffering, more about how it affected someone very long-term. Honestly, I don\’t often get emotional reading a book but this one moved me to tears at least twice. There\’s also parts in it about the native San people, which I liked very much- I kind of wish there had been more about them. The heat is consistently oppressive and palpable, the landscape very real in all its emptiness, wildness and fierce kind of beauty. I would definitely like to read more by this author.
Rating: 4/5 368 pages, 2013