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SONG OF BE by Lesley Beake


by Lesley Beake

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8050-2905-2
Publisher: Henry Holt

A Scottish-born South African who ``has received many awards'' looks deep into the mind and heart of a young Ju/'hoan Bushman caught in Namibia's new independence and her people's uneasily evolving ties to the modern world. Be engages empathy from her first words—``I have just killed myself.'' Then, explaining that the arrow's poison may take days to act, she tells her story. As a young child, when her grandfather summons them to help, she and her mother leave their traditional village in the Kalahari for a hardscrabble farm belonging to gruff ``Kleinbaas'' Coetzee and his troubled wife, Min. Between bouts of despair, the childless Min is kind to intelligent, thoughtful Be; she teaches her and brings her books that offer puzzling glimpses of the world's unimaginable complexity. As she nears puberty, Be pieces together her family's story. Her grandfather, virtually a slave to Kleinbaas's father, is now a friend (of sorts) to Kleinbaas; her mother has been his mistress. The Coetzees' past, in its way, is as full of sorrow; to Beake's credit, she depicts all her characters—from Khu (a young man who's registering black voters) to the old man who chooses loyalty to whites, from university-educated Min to Be herself- -with compassion as well as objectivity. The end (Khu, who loves Be, may save her) runs counter to the tragic tenor of what precedes it; yet the message that the next generation holds a fragile hope is not amiss. Spare, lyrical, absorbing: a novel that, like Shabanu, brings a vibrant young woman and her vanishing culture vividly to life. Author's note on the setting. (Fiction. 12+)