Grandfather's WW1

2007-11-14 00:00

A FAIRLY long, ambitious novel, Journeys to the End of the World opens in 2001 with a young psychology student, Vicky Watts, travelling to Plettenburg Bay in the hope of finding out something about her great-grandfather, Dan Butler. She then proceeds to follow his story into the murderous futility of World War 1.

A civilised, considerate man who in peacetime had studied to be an archaeologist, Butler's world view was shattered by his experiences on the Western Front where he was forced to witness the wholesale slaughter of the men under his command.

Although he manages to find some meaning and purpose to his life when he returns to South Africa and falls in love with a beautiful, young teacher, it is not enough to erase the terrible sense of guilt and loss.

Running parallel to this is a third story stretching even further back into the mists of time - that of Hanibal, a young Khoikhoin who is forced to flee from his brutal Trekboer master and seek refuge in an isolated coastal cave. Inhabited since prehistoric times, this shelter provides the common link between the various characters in the book.

Author Clive Algar writes well, particularly in his descriptions of life in South Africa in the early part of the last century and later in the vivid details of the horrors of trench warfare. His characters and plot are hatched with conviction and although technically a historical novel, the book's themes and preoccupations reach beyond the period piece.

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