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ZULU DOG by Anton Ferreira

ZULU DOG

By Anton Ferreira

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 2002
ISBN: 0-374-39223-4
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Two children and a dog offer a tentative hope for a strife-ridden, modern South Africa in this debut from Ferreira, a Reuters correspondent who grew up there. Eleven-year-old Vusi is Zulu. His life revolves around Gillette, the three-legged pup he has reared and trained in secret, hoping that despite his handicap the dog will become a true Zulu hunting dog. Twelve-year-old Shirley is English. She loves the sprawling farm she has grown up on and despairs at her father’s determination to send her to a boarding school instead of the newly desegregated local school. They meet in the bush and become fast—and very secret—friends. The present-tense narrative moves back and forth between the two children’s perspectives, occasionally broadening to include Vusi’s father, a beleaguered taxi driver whose livelihood is threatened by gangs; Shirley’s father, a dyed-in-the-wool racist who is less than happy with the post-apartheid era; and Robert Rudolph, a miraculously enlightened white farmer. Vusi is a meticulously drawn character, whose single-minded adoration of his dog is universal, but whose beliefs and concerns are uniquely Zulu. The land-loving Shirley is almost as well drawn; her maturing perspective causes her to question the truths that have sustained her since birth. The white secondary characters are less well developed: Shirley’s father is almost wholly despicable, Rudolph almost saintly in his willingness to find a path to peace. The inevitable clash between European and Zulu occurs, and just as inevitably, enormously improbably, and highly satisfactorily, Gillette saves the day, making possible a rapprochement. If the plotting and character development are not always as smooth as they should be, the narrative nevertheless offers glorious description of, as well as a valuable insight into, a part of the world that probably has never hit the radar screen of most young readers. A historical note precedes the story, contextualizing the tensions presented within. (Fiction. 10-14)