Wolseley by J. John le Grange


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Simple, beautifully told coming-of-age story in a wrenching account of loyalty, betrayal, heartbreak, and redemption.

At first, the deceptively straightforward style of le Grange’s debut novel makes it almost seem like a fairy tale, but it’s one that rapidly turns dark. A white South African family is at the end of a downward spiral. Facing eviction and running out of options, the family has been subsisting on Martha’s salary from a 7-Eleven while her unemployed husband, Hendrik, has all but given up, teetering at the edge of sanity. They have tried to shelter daughter Magda, who spends most of her time in her room, living vicariously through letters with a friend. As the date of their eviction approaches, each deals with the move in his or her own way. Martha efficiently sells things off and plans the move to Cape Town; Hendrik prays for death and contemplates his military role during apartheid; Magda comes to the realization that her life is going to change. “She was scared. It looked like there were going to be more changes. She had had enough of change. First there was leaving Bothaville when Pa was retrenched because of this BEE thing, then the move to Welkom where her uncle was, then the quick move to Wolseley because Ma knew a friend from there. Why couldn’t they just stay somewhere for good?” The author skillfully plants hints along the way that poverty isn’t the only problem. There are phone calls between Martha and a mysterious man as well as vague references to the real reason the family had to leave the town of Welkom. It all comes to a head when Magda is faced with a devastating choice that calls for immense maturity amid the abject, overwhelming conditions on the Cape Town streets. Le Grange writes beautifully, laying out the story in direct, simple prose while at the same time infusing it with vivid symbolism and deeply evocative images: “She cannot speak anymore and even though she hears her mother talking, she lets go of the phone. The dismembered receiver swings round and round.” Rarely has a difficult subject been so easy to read about.

A profoundly affective novel brimming with solid writing that delves into the darker corners of being human.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-620-62363-6
Page count: 172pp
Publisher: South Africa Writing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015


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