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A somber portrait of the deteriorating marriage of a white middle-aged couple beset by doubts and fears in post-apartheid Johannesburg, where the past still casts long shadows and the future is uncertain.

South African novelist Jooste (Like Water in Wild Places, 2000, etc.) also vividly evokes the present: an edgy time of flux, of waiting for new patterns to emerge and for life to assume some definable shape. Liberation’s euphoria has inevitably evaporated as whites adjust to the loss of privileges, security, and certainty, while blacks cope with generational tensions, lowered expectations, and crime. The plight of Julia and Douglas deftly mirrors their society’s dissatisfactions and disappointments. She has tried to be the perfect wife and mother, but he sees other women, and their runaway daughter takes drugs and refuses to visit. Meanwhile, Douglas is under pressure to appoint a black to the board of his construction company. Business is bad, he’s in debt, and he’s tired of fighting with his wife about her spending. As an embittered Julia decides to change her life, other characters connected to the central couple also face challenges. In London, Douglas’s first wife Rosalie, who went to prison for her politics and was then deported, is trying to cope with increasing memory loss. Michael, a wealthy Johannesburg entrepreneur who was once Rosalie’s lover, feels guilty for abandoning the struggle after her arrest. Wealthy Caroline, Julia’s best friend, copes with unwelcome change after her husband Gus is rendered comatose in a car accident; a developer wants to buy the family estate, and their son pressures her to sell. Gladstone, an aging African who works for Douglas, wants to live in the country, but his urban daughter objects. Matters come to a head as Julia plans a party for Rosalie, mistakenly rumored to be returning, and decisions are made that involve divorce, murder, and acceptance.

A finely crafted portrayal of a society on the cusp.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-385-60148-4
Page count: 302pp
Publisher: Doubleday UK/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2003