In this cross-genre work, Krummeck (Beyond the Baobab, 2014) interweaves a memoir of her immigration to America with a creative imagining of her great-great-grandmother’s journey to South Africa as a missionary’s wife.
In January 1815, English newlyweds Sarah and George Barker traveled to Portsmouth to board a ship bound for the Cape of Good Hope. During their voyage to Africa, where they planned to do missionary work with the Khoikhoi people, an armed American merchant ship fired on their vessel. It was the first of many perils that the couple would face during their travels. The author says that she felt a sense of kinship with her great-great-grandmother Sarah after she herself emigrated from Cape Town to the United States, 182 years later. She tells of meeting her future husband, an American French-horn player, while working as a radio host in Johannesburg and goes on to recall how she later became immersed in the story of her missionary forebears. Drawing upon family archives, her study recounts two radically diverse personal journeys that link across the ages. Krummeck’s own story is written as a memoir, but Sarah’s reads like a historical novel, with factual material and imagined dialogue side by side. These forms elegantly dovetail when the author inserts her first-person perspective into Sarah’s narrative: “Sarah had conceived her fourth child around the time of their third wedding anniversary—I like to think on their wedding anniversary.” Krummeck also evocatively describes the landscape through her ancestor’s eyes: “The clean air was pure and rich, the redolent earth a tawny ochre.” The present and past meld well, creating a sense that the author has a foot in both worlds. Nevertheless, this will prove an uncomfortable read for those who view the Barkers’ missionary vision negatively. For example, George declares, “I work to try to give these people a life of dignity and purpose,” implying that the Khoikhoi people are incapable of either without guidance. Krummeck portrays George as being progressive for his time, as he stood against apartheid in its “fledging form.” Still, such issues are sure to divide reader opinion.
Elegantly crafted writing on contentious subject matter.