The Devil's Chimney

Anne Landsman, Author Csbs $24 (320p) ISBN 978-1-56947-101-2
Hubris, madness and ruin in South Africa come urgently alive in Landsman's impressive debut. The physical terrain of the Karoo region and the country's minutely differentiated but rigidly observed sociological hierarchies are evoked with cinematographic clarity and poetic grace as Landsman spins two interrelated tales of sexual passion and emotional desolation, each of which culminates in the loss of a child, a relationship and a future. At the outset, it seems odd that Landsman has chosen the simple and alcohol-dazed voice of elderly Connie, a self-described Poor White, to narrate the story of the English bluebloods Beatrice and Henry Chapman, who came to the district near Oudtshoorn in 1910, at the height of the international craze for ostrich plumes, to run an ostrich ranch. Connie and her brutal husband, Jack, manage a dog kennel near the Canga Caves, the region's outstanding tourist attraction, and, we discover in flashbacks, the place where Beatrice lay with her lover, the Jewish owner of the neighboring ranch, when her husband temporarily disappeared in the mountains. Gradually, it becomes obvious that the loss of Connie's baby in childbirth, when she was young, corresponds with the violent events of the novel's denouement, which take place in the cave called The Devil's Chimney. As the artfully integrated tale progresses, Landsman's prose becomes tensely lyric and erotic, employing a kind of enfevered magical realism. These passages are balanced by matter-of-fact descriptions of the care and breeding of ostriches, in which Landsman brings a lost era to vivid life. And there are fascinating glimpses of tribal folklore and social stratification under apartheid. In the end, we have a devastating portrait of a system in which the lives of women and black people were equally expendable, and an illumination of a culture whose dark secrets, like the interior of the inky caverns, were kept buried from the light. QPB selection; author tour. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-14-027746-3
Show other formats
Discover what to read next