Capturing the world of the Cape

2008-04-23 00:00

THIS book is not so much a novel as a lyrical love poem to Africa and its people. Peter Merrington’s characters dance through the perfectly captured world of the Cape, from the deep forest of the Tsitsikamma, to the harbour of Kalk Bay, from the leafy suburbs of Gardens to the clanging harshness of Salt River.

Merrington’s observations are acute and colourful. His language is poetic and beautiful. And his characters are eccentric and unforgettable.

There’s Malibongwe, the sangoma, and his newly rescued Twasa or apprentice, Anna. Malibongwe rescues Anna from the cruel tyranny of Tannie Patat and her unscrupulous husband, Oom Skorsie, just before Oom Skorsie begins to sell Anna’s youthful charms to the tourist trade. The relationship between the sangoma and his Twasa is similar to that between Arthur and Merlin (especially one kitchen scene which is just like one from Disney’s The Sword and the Stone).

There is one big difference though. Malibongwe falls in love with Anna. They follow adventures throughout the Cape. In one instance they turn a billiard ball (and a few other crucial items) into an elephant and avert a potential disaster in the centre of Cape Town.

Then there’s John Dory and his other fishy mates, drinking their way into the early hours, while their wives clean and sell the fish they’ve caught. There’s also the romantic archaeologist who falls in love with a statue in a graveyard. Then there’s a lover of antique books who finds the love of his life who, for once, is not a book.

If you’re looking for a novel which you can read in a straight sitting from beginning to end, maybe this book isn’t for you. But if you are looking for the South African equivalent of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood, Peter Merrington does for the Cape and its people what Dylan Thomas did for Wales.

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