Sprawling novel of love, war and land

2008-10-29 00:00

Ingrid Wolfaardt’s first novel is another product of UCT’s Masters in Creative Writing course. She has created a sprawling novel which deals with a family who are trying to run a fruit farm in the Western Cape.

Isak Minnaar is the main protagonist. As a child he watches the unhealthy dynamics between his mother and father. He also becomes aware of the unequal relationship between his father and the other farmers with the “volk”. When he is conscripted into the South African Defence Force, he becomes part of the unthinking killing machine. He, unlike others, is aware of the emotional boundaries he’s crossed as a result of his violent actions.

He returns to the farm and has a brief sojourn at university. His inability to reintegrate with the community keeps him aloof from others, but he is drawn to Amelie, a fellow student at university. She is the only person who challenges his perceptions about himself as well as the status quo on his farm. His love for her forces him to reassess his ingrained beliefs of entitlement. The bigger political changes in the country impel him and the farming community into the new South Africa and he is forced to deal with the crippling effects of his years in the SADF.

Wolfaardt writes well with a creative eye for detail. I did question why she chose to change the narrative voice of Isak’s to that of Amelie’s only near the end of the book, though. It seemed a bit late to introduce a new convention. However, the book is a compelling read about our recent South African past as well as the incredible hardships faced by the farmers in their battle against the forces of nature.

Janet van Eeden

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