Book review: Softness of the Lime by Maxine Case

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Softness of the Lime by Maxine Case (first published in 2017 by Penguin Random House South Africa)

I LOVED this book. It spans decades and tells the stories of a Dutch settler in the Cape in the 18th Century, and one of his slaves, Lena. 

Geert Baardwijk is a rich man living the relatively easy life the Dutch had in the Cape. Lena is a young woman, sold into slavery by the chief of her village in Madagascar. 

We are led to their interactions through the telling of their individual stories.  I loved this part of the book because so few of us are aware of the lives slaves and indentured workers had before they became someone's property. 

Read more: Book review: The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa

It is important that we remember and remain aware of the facts of this part of South African history. 

South Africa did not start in 1652 as so many of us learnt at school. The Dutch did not sail in to rescue this land and its people from a lack of civilisation.

And they only succeeded in creating a settlement through the hard work of people who hardly benefited at all.

All of this is in this book, but then so is love and guilt, emotional conflict and confusion.

The characters are multi-dimensional and even ‘bad’ acts can be seen in the light of the times. Weak people do not go against society regardless of how they feel. And strong people will always survive.

This book also looks at love and betrayal, expectation and ownership. It is just full of wonderful themes and in the middle of all of that, delivers an interesting history lesson too.

As a South African I think this book is so important. While Case acknowledges that she could find record of Baardwijk quite easily, there is no record of Lena. This in itself is so telling.

As a result, Lena's story is not the story of a specific slave but the story of so many. Lena is a character in Case’s family history but the journey she took to land up where she did was a journey similar to that forced upon so many people.

Every South African should read books like this to realise the depths of the system we are trying to move past. 

Read more: Beach reads that will make your summer that much better

When white South Africans say it’s been 25 years, get over it – I wish they remembered that 300 years ago one set of their ancestors was buying and selling the ancestors of other members of the population. 

A wonderful book on so many levels. Just beautiful.

Purchase a copy of the book from Raru.co.za.

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