Amazon.com review: After a disturbing call from a certain Josias Brandt, Karl Hofmeyr departs for Cape Town to help his brother, Iggy, who is apparently running amok. On this journey Karl – hard-core heavy-metal fan – valiantly contends with inner demons as well as outer obstacles. Meanwhile, in an attempt to fend off a beleaguering emptiness, Maria Volschenk embarks on a journey to understand her sister’s search for enlightenment . . . and her subsequent death. These two narratives converge on a highly unconventional city farm, where Iggy is locked in a bitter duel with the inscrutable Brandt fellow, under the laconic gaze of Maria’s friend Jakobus. Die aanspraak van lewende wesens, the original Afrikaans version of It Might Get Loud, won five major literary awards: the M-Net Award, the University of Johannesburg Literary Prize, the Hertzog Prize, the WA Hofmeyr Prize and the Great Afrikaans Novel Prize.
This is my first foray into the acclaimed Afrikaans writer’s work. Luckily for me, Michiel Heyns translated this novel, so it was accessible.
What I liked about the novel was that it focussed on the personal stories of a group of very recognisable modern South Africans, as opposed to being a vehicle for thinly veiled political polemic, or yet another re-hashing of The Struggle. Over 20 years have elapsed since our breakthrough 1994 Elections when the New South Africa birthed, and now its time to move on and start story-telling once more. Yes, there’s a short section where Karl encounters three far-right doomsday survivalists, sure, we have them. Only they’re not part of TV reality series as happens elsewhere. But they’re a minor detour in the story trail.
On the downside, I have to say that I found two different narrative strands confusing, and it took me ages to sort out who was who in the missions: Karl slowly travelling to Cape Town to rescue his brother Iggy staying on a city farm, and Maria also Cape Town bound to assist her dysfunctional son Benjy, and confront her dead sister Sophie’s partner Toby and get some closure about Sophie’s suicide. Plus each strand has a cast of assorted bit players woven into their story. The narrative kept jumping to and fro, and I had to retrace my steps to see who was who in this particular strand.
This said, it was an intriguing read. Particularly the factor of the little red notebook – Sophie’s only bequest to her sister. I’m still pondering the enigmatic entry about a spiritual path through the Ten Gates.
The most interesting thing for me was that the Karl/Iggy strand of the novel culminated at the city farm, which really does exist in Cape Town, situated in the old Military Camp in Tamboerskloof. I visited the resident artist there, about 20 years ago, and toured the Victoria era munitions storage area, the barrel vaulted dark caverns. When I saw them, the artist Andre Laubscher was using them to display his art works. The paintings hung in several of the vaults and were indeed badly illuminated by a single dim lightbulb hanging from the roof, just as the novel says. The vaults that I saw were not crammed with junk as the novel describes. But hey! You can accumulate a lot in 20 years. In my opinion, Winterbach’s character Jakobus is definitely based on the artist I met.
I bought a large seascape from Laubscher on my visit, because I loved the colours, but in recent years its languished in its packing case because my current home lacks the wall space to display it . I’ll include a picture below. Laubscher is a true eccentric and has his own chapter in Eccentric South Africa by Pat Hopkins , published by Zebra, in 2001.
I’ll look out for more of Ingrid Winterbach’s novels. I note that four of her other novels have been translated. If you want to try a South African contemporary novelist, who has won five major literary awards, and is readable then I recommend you try her work.
P.S. Laubscher told me the title was Mandela walks from Robben Island to Cape Town. Size is approx .900 cm x 1.3m . I will happily accept offers of around R4 500.