Accomplished tale of human resilience

2009-09-09 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Counting Sleeping Beauties

Hazel Frankel

Jacana

TWO years ago the manuscript of this first novel by published poet ­Hazel Frankel was the runner-up in both the EU Literary Award in South Africa and the Telegraph UK First Book Award in the United Kingdom. Now out in soft cover format, it tells the story of Hannah, growing up in a Jewish home in Johannesburg in the fifties.

It should have been an idyllic childhood. Her father is a successful lawyer, her grandparents, prewar refugees from Lithuania, are on hand to tell her ­stories of the family background and help with baby­sitting, and Sina, a caring nanny, is also part of the household.

But there is tragedy in the pasts of many of the people there, so much so that when another catastrophe strikes, it is too much to bear, and the whole construct unravels, fault lines that had previously been covered over now revealed as gaping holes.

The story is told through the voices of Hannah herself, her mother ­Susan, her grandmother Leah and Sina. All are convincingly achieved, and the book offers a glimpse into the lives of dispossessed people in prewar ­Europe, rural Africans struggling to survive in apartheid South Africa and those in the comfortable suburbia of the same time. But, despite differences, tragedy ­remains tragedy and its results spread widely.

Counting Sleeping Beauties is an accomplished work, although not a cheerful one. It is a bleak story, ­ and the only comfort it can offer is the resilience of people — some ­anyway — who survive in the face of disasters.

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