by Alan Scholefield ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 7, 1982
Versatile storyteller Scholefield (Venom, Point of Honour) moves now into the bigtime saga genre--with a routinely narrated but otherwise superior tale of farmers, diamond-diggers, and merchants in South Africa, 1857-1900. A strong, resilient woman quietly dominates the novel: Georgia-born Susan Parker, who arrives in the 1857 inland wilderness as the plain, stocky bride of a sexless missionary--but soon, after a murder/rape attack by Hottentot bandits, becomes the soulmate/wife of would-be livestock farmer Frans Delport. Slowly, Susan and Frans carve out a primitive homestead; daughter Marie is born (but is she perhaps the child of the Hottentot rape?). And then, to isolation-loving Frans' horror, the nearby diamond strikes attract more and more foreigners. Among them: brutish, illegitimate young English sailor Jack Farson; and Russian-Jewish-born, London-bred David Kade. Jack and David become unlikely, ever-feuding partners on a claim at the diamond diggings (the grime and tedium of which are vividly evoked). Jack befriends the Delports, unintentionally captures restless Marie's love/lust, but adores touring singer Lily--and briefly wins her by fatally injuring her prizefight-champion protector. Meanwhile, David is gradually lured from the diggings into partnership with rising merchant Levinson, whose tender daughter Hilda is clearly part of the bargain. So, when Lily takes off to Europe to begin an opera career, there'll be two marriages: David and Hilda become diamond-dealing townfolk while Jack and Marie struggle with Susan (Frans slowly dies) to save the plague-ridden, crumbling Delport farm. But the Jack/ David partnership is soon re-awakened when (in a truly inspired bit of plotting) Jack obsessively hunts for diamonds at the farm, finding an epic stone by dismantling the farmhouse, mud-brick by mud-brick; this ""Southern Cross"" diamond will become the start of a Jack/David fortune--and a source of enmity over the decades. Eventually, then, Jack's London daughter will fall in love with David's consumptive Oxford son (to Jack's horror); David will find late-love with now-famous Lily (to Jack's impotent fury); and the exciting last chapters bring everyone back to South Africa for the Boer War, with gallant old Susan and the young folk escaping marauders . . . while insane Jack leads anti-guerrilla raids, terrorizes just about everybody, and winds up dead with a glass button (he thinks it's a diamond) clutched in his hand. True, the non-whites of the region barely register in this history/fiction. And neither Scholefield's dialogue (some anachronisms) nor his prose (some clichÃ‰s) is topnotch. But the characters are warm and real, the gritty, ironic drama is genuinely earned (no coincidences, no melodrama), and the place and time come alive as they never did for a moment in James Michener's The Covenant.
Pub Date: June 7, 1982
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982
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