MIDDLEPOST by Antony Sher


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In his first novel, South African-born actor Sher, now living in England, offers an inventive and tragicomic vision of his birthplace through the misadventures of a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania--despised there as the family fool--who arrives at the Cape of Good Hope at the turn of the century. Smous (Afrikaans for "peddler," and the protagonist's adopted name) gets into trouble from the time he disembarks and misses the Yiddish interpreter. Unable to speak any of the local languages, ignorant of racial nuances and of hatred between the English and Afrikaners in the aftermath of the Boer War, passive by temperament, Smous simply wants someone to take him to his successful uncle in the town of Calvinia--but instead lets himself be led on a near-fatal tour of the city, and on a foot trek across the wilderness with Naoksa, a virtuous woman from Bushmanland who's escaped, in his company, from a whorehouse. Settled in the town of Middlepost, Smous becomes a love-object to an English gentleman gold-prospector--as well as a mascot to the fanatically religious Boer storekeeper who reveres the ancient Israelites and treats local blacks with a frightening mix of tenderness and brutality. All the while, Smous recalls life in Lithuania, and dozens of characters talk to and at each other in a delicious babel of confusion and misunderstanding. Ultimately, Smous finds (and is disappointed in) his uncle and reaches a more sophisticated, chilling understanding of his new country. Picaresque first novel with debts to Candide, I.B. Singer, and Salman Rushdie; if not quite reaching those heights, still deserving of its best-seller status in England.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1989
ISBN: 394-57436-2
Publisher: Knopf
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