An army operative faces the TRC

2009-01-05 00:00

CAREL van der Merwe's debut novel is a compelling account of the experiences of 36-year-old Paul du Toit. The book begins with Paul having to fight his way out of a TRC hearing, going home to an empty house and the newspaper reports the next morning.

As the story unfolds, it transpires that Paul has a violent history as a covert army operative in the twilight years of a white-ruled South Africa, which cannot be merely forgotten, and he is forced to apply for amnesty from the TRC for the deaths of two anti-apartheid activists. He subsequently loses his job, his privacy and his wife - whom he doesn't encounter or speak to after the hearing. Eventually, he discovers she has fled to London and travels there to find her, where he joins the South African expatriate community. It is here that Paul reflects on his past and his guilt as he searches for her, betwixt a violent feud with London criminals and his casual relationship with a Spanish au pair.

On his return to South Africa for his father's funeral he goes to meet the relatives of the two dead activists and admits his guilt, after which he has to decide on his future.

Van der Merwe's debut novel plays out as a tempting page-turner because he withholds the elements revealed in the transcription of the TRC hearing as he parallels Paul's life in the aftermath. It ends up as a morbid depiction for this particular white South African man, but it's an entertaining, harmless read.

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