The 12 stories in Sacks' debut collection zigzag across the globe, from Germany to India and Morocco, coming back frequently to South Africa.
Each centers on a character who has arrived in a new locale to find something, to flee something, or both. In the opening piece we meet a man known only as Kingdom, who fled war and suffering to come to South Africa. He now works as a hit man. Also in Cape Town is Benjamin, the protagonist of “Wurden wir mit dem Leben belohnt oder bestraft?” He is a 96-year-old former Nazi soldier who lives under a false identity. Mostly, it would seem, his life is a self-inflicted punishment for what he did during the war. Politics form a constant backdrop that has and continues to influence these characters’ lives in subtle and obvious ways. “Build, Break” grants us a clear view of the complex class system of post-apartheid South Africa, while “Rich Man Dreams” brings us to Dubai, a glittering place built on the backs of imported slaves. “We fill the ground like bricks,” one of these enslaved men, Ali, notes. The stories intersect very loosely; a character might mention the name of a relative or loved one who will appear as a character, main or minor, later. The web is tenuous and, at times, forced and unnecessary. Structurally, a great deal of action happens in back story, revealing characters' past lives but weighing the stories down in exposition. Nonetheless, the collection as a whole grants far-reaching insight into issues of our world.
A geopolitical collection of people with pasts.