A harrowing story — but with redemption

2009-08-12 00:00

I GROANED when I started to read this book and wanted to return it to the books editor, pleading constitutional inability to review it. I just couldn’t face yet another tale of horror and misery. However, I persevered and I’m glad I did.

The book is based on the author’s experiences as a childcare worker in a children’s home in Bloemfontein. She knows of what she writes, and as a survivor of state boarding schools, I can attest to the truth she tells.

Her description of the daily humiliation and suffering that Vaselinetjie endures as a boarder in a hostel full of “welfare children” is all too real. The characters she encounters, both adults and children, are keenly observed and finely drawn, as are the nuances of their communication and the web of meaning that they construct around themselves.

The story could be said to be a meditation on race, race consciousness and the all-pervasive and persistent effects of apartheid on this nation’s psyche. It’s a reminder that there was a time when race was a matter of life and death, sometimes literally.

However, Vaselinetjie’s life is not without redemption, which is what made the reading bearable, even pleasurable in places. It comes in the form of her loving grandparents, the children’s irrepressible humour and a boy in the home called Texan Kirby.

To say more would be to spoil what is at times a harrowing, but also an uplifting reading experience. It’s a warm tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of love and our ability to triumph despite all that conspires against us.

This book was first published in Afrikaans in 2004 and received the Jan Rabie/Rapport Prize, the M.E.R. Prize for youth literature and an M-Net prize in 2005.

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