SA writers mourn Dalene Matthee

Cape Town - "Maybe she just held out until her new book, Die Uitgespoeldes, and its translation was done," Dalene Matthee's daughter Amanda said on Sunday after the author died in her sleep.

The 66-year-old Matthee died in the Bayview clinic, Mossel Bay, early on Sunday morning. She was admitted to the clinic for heart failure on Thursday.

The death of Matthee - who was especially well known for her forest trilogy, of which the first, Kringe in 'n Bos (Circles in a Forest, first appeared in 1984 and was reprinted 22 times - is being described as a huge loss for the Afrikaans reading public.

"She was one of the most well-loved popular novelists in Afrikaans.

"With her books such as Kringe, Fiela se Kind (Fiela's Child), Pieternella van die Kaap and, more recently, Toorbos, she got the general Afrikaans public reading again, and she successfully bridged the gap between quality and popular literature," said Eloise Wessels, chief executive of NB Publishers, on Sunday.

Novelist Elsa Joubert agrees.

"She succeeded in getting people who never read Afrikaans to read in the language, and that's been a wonderful contribution," she says.

The literary expert Wium van Zyl believes she was like Langenhoven.

"Like him, she had something to offer the intellectual reader and for the everyday reader.

"She exposed the reader to various challenges. She was an ecologist and a mild feminist who considered the poor with attention and respect."

If there's someone whom the entire South African writers' community mourns today, it would be Matthee, said Abraham H de Vries.

"The voice of one of the best storytellers has fallen silent.

"Only she could have written those forest stories - no one else could."

Film-maker Katinka Heyns, who directed the movie based on the book Fiela se Kind, remembers how she spent two hours with Matthee in the Knysna forest.

"The forest would tell Dalene if I may make the movie. She did not say a word and only sat listening.

"And then I had to wait an enitre night before she gave the answer."

Matthee was famous for the rigorous research she did for her books.

She researched only her forest trilogy (Kringe, Fiela and Moerbeibos) for seven years, and Pieternella took three years' research.

Matthee's books were translated into 14 languages, including French, German, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew and Icelandic. She won the ATKV prize for good popular fiction four times and was honoured with a Swiss literature prize for her "energetic literary work and her passionate interest in nature conservation" in Zurich in 1993.

Die Uitgespoeldes is the story of Moses Swart, a foundling raised by an Afrikaans family after being found under a jacket on the beach.

Matthee is survived by her three daughters, Amanda and Hilary Matthee and Toni van der Walt.

Her husband, Larius, died two years ago.

Buy books by Dalene Matthee:

  • Fiela's Child
  • Fiela se Kind
  • Circles in a forest
  • Kringe in 'n bos
  • Dream Forest
  • Toorbos
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