In this debut novel from South African author Strauss, a privileged white South African boy comes of age during the waning days of apartheid.
Caught in between childhood and adulthood, 11-year-old Jack Viljee enjoys playing with He-Man action figures; swimming in his family’s pool with his best friend Petrus; and masturbating—a lot. A bit precocious, he is in many ways a normal kid, albeit one living in Johannesburg in 1989, shortly before the historical events that would alter South Africa forever. Like those of his class, Jack has been raised in part by a live-in black maid, Susie, who he comes to think of as a second mother. She is, as one of his friends says, a “good” black. Warm and loving (apart from an occasional humorous threat) Susie seems devoted to her young charge. She does, however, have a teenage son of her own, Percy, who usually lives with her estranged husband, Lebo. A surly youth with a fondness for drinking, Percy comes to stay with his mother for a while, complicating Jack’s comfortable little world. The tension between the two boys plays out like an echo of the changing relationship between whites and blacks in the country itself. So when Percy bears witness to Jack during an especially private moment, the humiliated younger boy feels compelled to retaliate. He tells his parents a lie that ends up having long-lasting—and tragic—results for all of them. Meanwhile, Jack, who is half Afrikaner and half English, finds painful and hilarious ways to deal with his own ethnic and sexual confusion. Strauss’s often-hilarious debut captures a remarkable period of time without resorting to any heavy-handed political messaging. And in Jack he has created an unlikely, and utterly believable, voice of a generation.
Profane, brutally honest portrait of tween angst.