FAR FORBIDDEN PLAINS by Christina Laffeaty


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Toward the close of this passion-toss'd, domestic drama set in South Africa at the time of the Boer War, the love-and-time-blasted protagonist glooms at her kitchen table, ""battling with the endless circle of grief, pain, rage, bitterness, desolation and loss."" There's plenty of all this to go around here, but it's all more lively than dreary. Seventeen-year-old Petronella van Zyl--offspring of a kind Afrikaner farmer and his stern, hard-working wife who wrest subsistence front their farm, ""Jakkalsdrif,"" in the Transvaal--discovers Life and Sex when she unwittingly attracts Mordecai Cohen, a.k.a. Marcus Koch, son of a wealthy Johannesburg family. For Marcus and Petronella, there's rousing ""pleasuring"" in the woods--but when the pair's plans to marry are announced, it's bombshell time: Petronella is banished from her family, and the Cohens prepare to sit shiva. When the war comes, though, Marcus decides to become Boer-ized, joins up as a spy, is captured by the British, and sent to Bermuda. Meanwhile, Petronella endures a prison camp along with rock-hard Mamma, who took back her daughter but barely speaks. Then the shattered family moves back to Jakkalsdrif, and Mamma warms as Petronella agrees to marry a neighbor. But on the day before the wedding, guess who appears'? Marcus has now become a parson of an evangelical church, and is quite a success. Their marriage sets the stage for Family Battles II. The Koens will produce three sons--but because of a law infringement (Marcus had not registered his birth), the eldest son, Abel, is declared to be the second son, not only is he not entitled to Jakkalsdrif, then, but Marcus avoids him, and Petronella has loathed him since the day he was born. (Abel's birth did not create the miracle of making Mamma love her again,) Adult Abel, hating both parents, begins his no-holds-barred fight for Jakkalsdrif, while Petronella and Marcus row constantly, his ""church"" a bone of contention as it drains money and time. So in the Marcus Koen family--Mamma loves/hates Pappa; #1 son hates both and his two brothers; brothers and mother hate Abel. . . Glorious, roiling hate--but it pops into something like a grudging love at the close.

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1989
Publisher: St. Martin's