British settler and Bushman collision

2009-12-30 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Blood’s Mist

David Donald

Jacana

YOU know this book’s going to end in tears. Set a Bushman family group on a collision course with a family of British settlers in the mid-19th century and it’s pretty clear where things are headed.

Blood’s Mist does exactly that. While a Bushman family group is on a hunt in the Drakensberg, the Hardy family is arriving in Durban. From that moment, David Donald constructs an interlocking story leading to a dramatic climax.

Donald has made use of much ­recent published research by the likes of John Wright, David Lewis­Williams and Pippa Scotnes to invest his story with accurate historical and anthropological detail, and, although this is a work of fiction, he has also provided detailed notes that can be read separately or not, as the reader chooses. In addition, there is a bibliography, a map and a guide to Bushman pronunciation.

Commendably thorough though all this is, it does not add up to an exactly enthralling read. The characters are unconvincing ciphers tending to the stereotypical: the Bushman idealised, the settlers either plain good or plain bad. An air of political correctness hangs over the proceedings.

Nevertheless, Blood’s Mist represents a creditable attempt to bring to fictional life a fascinating but sad aspect of our heritage. Books like this are needed but a better model might have been the anthropological/archaeological “People” series by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear about the indigenous peoples of North America.

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