The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.

Jacques Strauss. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-14412-8
Eleven-year-old Jack Viljee lives in "a very nice house, on a very nice street in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg" in the time of apartheid. Child of an English mother and an Afrikaans father, Jack struggles with adolescence, from the implied queerness of his best friend Petrus to the aging of his grandmother and his impatience with puberty's timing. Still, he prides himself on his ability to move between cultures and maneuver both his friends and his family without letting any of them catch on to his inner self. "My distinguishing characteristic was that I was half English and half Afrikaans, that I could slip unnoticed between the two peoples like a spy," he boasts. Jack's greatest problem comes, however, when he tells a lie involving Susie, his family's beloved housekeeper—"my friend, my second mother and, perhaps, in other significant ways, my first"—and her 15-year-old son, Percy. The betrayal sends his life and Susie's spinning in unexpected directions. Jack is a delight to follow, and despite his youth and his assertion that "I might have been precocious but I wasn't particularly smart," he proves himself to be a reliable narrator. Strauss uses the child to explore 1980s South Africa, aligning the changes the Viljee clan goes through with those their country is about to face. Although hinging Jack's exit from innocence on his unfortunate encounter with Susie sells short the multifaceted characters' ability to hold the story on their own, the strength of Strauss's storytelling and the indelible impressions his creations make hijack the story in the best possible way. A well-crafted atmospheric debut. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/04/2011
Release date: 08/01/2011
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 232 pages - 978-0-09-955507-0
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-1-250-01384-2
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4299-4124-2
Hardcover - 232 pages - 978-0-224-09130-5
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-4464-0087-6
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