Shifting powers

2008-02-01 00:00

Marlene van Niekerk's Agaat is a weighty work which, despite its obvious merits in terms of conception, content and construction, suffers at times from excessive detail. First published in Afrikaans, to critical acclaim, in 2004, the novel has now been translated and is available in a 692-page English version.

In a neat inversion of Kamilla's nurturing of the child Agaat, the adult Agaat nurses, with intimate care, the dying Kamilla, who is gradually - over a period of three years - rendered immobile as a result of a motor neuron disease. Bedridden and speechless, using only her eyes for communication, she is utterly dependent on Agaat, who intuits her needs, tirelessly serves her and reads aloud Kamilla's diaries, which record - in idiosyncratic style - her long relationship with Agaat.

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