From the author of Entertaining Angels (1995), a bittersweet if at times pretentious evocation of adolescence in South...



From the author of Entertaining Angels (1995), a bittersweet if at times pretentious evocation of adolescence in South Africa in the '70s, a time of violent upheavals. Narrator Mart Vermaak, separated from her husband, is living in London with her young son in the 1990s, homesick but fearful of the violence that still threatens to destroy her native land. She begins her story with a recollection of her first day as a 16-year-old at the drab hostel attached to the local high school, when she met her roommate, the fearless and free-spirited Dalena. Mart's recollections alternate with letters written in the recent past (1992--93) to a nameless figure who will soon be 17, the same age the child's mother was when she was born. The letters, rounded out with newspaper quotes and political commentary, are with few exceptions sententious and self-conscious, and the identity of the child is soon apparent. The recollections, though, with their evocations of the Afrikaner noveau fiche, and of the tedium and trauma of adolescence, give the story an appealing freshness. Mart's parents live, like Dalena's, on a farm; they are loyal Afrikaners who have never questioned apartheid, but their children are different. Simon, Mart's elder brother (with whom Dalena falls in love), participates in South Africa's incursion into Angola, then, disillusioned, joins the liberation struggle. His even more skeptical friend Pierre, Mart's first love, is killed fighting; Dalena, pregnant, leaves school and gives up her child for adoption; and Mart, as riots break out in Soweto, sadly realizes that she is coming of age in a world where the usual teenage crises have been superseded by more urgent, and far more grave, realities. An engaging account of adolescence, those fraught years when everything is deadly serious and nothing can be taken for granted--especially in a place like South Africa.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 1996


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996