cover image This Life

This Life

Karel Schoeman, trans. from the Afrikaans by Else Silke. Archipelago (Random, dist.), $18 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-0-914671-15-2

An elderly woman on her deathbed recalls a rural, isolated life before and just after the Boer wars, in this novel from one of South Africa’s most award-winning authors. Sussie recalls her lonesome childhood and unmarried adult life: the only daughter of a domineering mother whose wicked temperament results in rage-fueled fits and ignites the scorn of her neighbors, and a respected father whose gentleness stirs the scant feelings of tenderness within her. Sussie’s two brothers, Jakob and Pieter, who couldn’t be more different, live in the Roggeveld mountains—a harsh and desolate landscape with extreme seasons that echo the tensions and stresses of daily life. When Jakob’s new wife, Sofie, arrives, beautiful and free-spirited, Sussie’s interest is piqued as Sofie teaches her what she’s learned in school and includes her in clandestine excursions. Sofie has a son, and heir, Maans, who grows up to take control of the homestead. When tragedy and scandal befall the family, Sussie longs for some understanding. Resolutely introverted and perpetually wary of other people, she tries to piece the broken story of her family together from fragments of memories. The meandering, exploratory narrative is at once beautiful and heartbreaking. (May)