David's Story

Zoe Wicomb, Author, Dorothy Driver, Afterword by
Zoe Wicomb, Author, Dorothy Driver, Afterword by Feminist Press $19.95 (278p) ISBN 978-1-55861-251-8
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Paperback - 278 pages - 978-1-55861-398-0
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A fabulous family tree branches backward into South African history and myth in Wicomb's second novel (after You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town). David Dirkse, somewhat shamefacedly, has left his wife and kids in Cape Town to search for his roots in Kokstad. The date is 1991; David, a cadre of the ANC, Mandela's party, should be feeling elated by the approaching collapse of apartheid. Instead, he is vaguely melancholy, perhaps because he is suppressing his feeling for a fellow cadre, Dulcie Olifant. David, like his wife, Sally, is ""colored,"" which means he belongs to that curious South African racial category, defined in the social hierarchy as some degree above black and some degree below white. In researching his ancestors, he studies the history of a tribe called Griqua, who are considered in Kokstad to be of low social status they are perhaps synonymous with the Hottentots. His inquiries focus on their 19th-century leader, Andrew La Fleur, for whom the Griqua were to be a model of ""separate development"" a fatal phrase, the root of the apartheid ideal. David's relationship to La Fleur comes from the ""telegonic"" birth of his great-grandmother, Ouma Ragel; Antjie, Ragel's mother, supposedly conceived from looking at La Fleur. At the top of the whole tree, as far as David is concerned, is the steatopygous Saartje Baartman, the Hottentot Venus, whose large buttocks amazed 19th-century European scientists. Complex, sympathetic, but desultory in its plotting and slow in pace, Wicomb's novel unravels a long, fascinating family history. Her tale is a sometimes happy, sometimes ironic unmasking of denials and a revelation of an imperfect, unlikely reality. (Mar.)
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