A brawny, brilliant debut novel about the epic struggles of an immigrant son in a darkening world.
Johannesburg, South Africa. The Great Depression. In this harsh new country, young Isaac Helger burns with fiery determination— to break out of the inner city, to buy his scarred mother the home she longs for, to find a way to realize her dream of reuniting a family torn apart. But there are terrible, unspoken secrets of the past that will haunt him as he makes his way through a society brutalized by racism, as he loses his heart to an unattainable girl from the city’s wealthiest heights and his every exit route from poverty dead-ends. When the threat of the Second World War insinuates itself with brutal force into Isaac’s reality, he will face the most important choice of his life . . . and will have to learn to live with the consequences.
In this extraordinarily powerful novel, Kenneth Bonert brings alive the world of South African Jewry in all its raw energy and ribald vernacular. Comedic, searing, lyrical and with a snap-perfect ear for dialogue, The Lion Seeker is a profoundly moral exploration of how wider social forces shape us and shatter us, echoing through history with lessons that are no less relevant today than in the crucible of its time.
"A Stupid or a Clever, a lion or a lamb": this refrain follows Isaac Helger as he comes of age in South Africa in the '20s and '30s. Both of Isaac's immigrant Jewish parents suffered in anti-Semitic Europe, but they've learned opposite lessons from their respective ordeals. His iron-willed, mysteriously scarred mother teaches him to put himself first, to take rather than give because if given the chance, anyone else would do the same. But his father favors a life of peaceful labor, preferring happiness to materialism. Which legacy will Isaac choose as he tries to strike it rich, woo an upper-class "goy" girl, and retaliate against anti-Semites? Bonert's minorities are not blameless victims: unable to see the similarity between the persecution of Jews and blacks, Isaac is a bigot, too. When Hitler's onslaught begins, endangering the Helgers' Lithuanian relatives, Isaac must decide which comes first: his own dreams or the lives of others. His is a story of fighting and deciding what's worth fighting for, of cultivating a strength that doesn't erase empathy. Bonert's debut is lengthy, but the pages turn quickly, with suspenseful prose and colorful vernacular dialogue that could easily be used in a blockbuster film.