NATURE LESSONS

Lynette Brasfield, Author . St. Martin's $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-31034-9

A woman's trip to South Africa to help her ailing mother turns into a dark, intricate journey into her family's past in this thought-provoking debut novel, its story framed against both pre- and post-apartheid politics. Kate Jensen, a 40-year-old ad copywriter, is about to be promoted to creative director of her Cleveland ad agency; her personal life consists of a string of failed near-marriages that she refers to as "the three fiancés." Family business comes to the fore when a letter arrives from her estranged mother in South Africa indicating that she has cancer. After some deliberation, Jensen makes the difficult trip back to Durban, only to find her mother missing. As she investigates her disappearance, a series of revealing chapters fill in Jensen's family story, describing her difficult childhood under the thumb of a paranoid woman who was eventually diagnosed as a schizophrenic. But Violet Jensen's paranoia turns out to be rooted in reality when her daughter learns that Oom Piet, the uncle her mother regarded as a dangerous enemy, may in fact have played a pivotal role in the death of Winston, the family gardener–cum–freedom fighter who died while in police custody. Kate Jensen proves to be a wry, engaging narrator, and Brasfield deftly introduces Jensen's doubts about her own mental health as her mother's mindset becomes an issue in the search for her. The South African material is equally complex and intriguing, although Brasfield comes dangerously close to turning Oom Piet into a cartoonish bogeyman in the first half of the book. There are some slow stretches that dull the impact of the final revelations about Oom Piet, but this book succeeds on enough levels to indicate a promising future for Brasfield. (May)

Reviewed on: 05/12/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Paperback - 275 pages - 978-0-312-31036-3
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4668-5494-9
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