When Frieda first met Min, with her golden hair and ivory bones, what struck her most was that Min was wearing a pair of African sandals, the sort made out of old car tyres. She was a silent, unhappy girl, dumped on Frieda's exuberant family in Johannesburg for the summer of 1964 so that her mother could go off with her new husband. In a way, Min and Frieda were both outsiders - Min, raised in the bush by her idealistic doctor father, and Frieda, daughter of a poor Jewish saxophone player who lived almost on top of a native neighborhood. The two girls, thrown together - the 'white k****r' and the poor Jewish girl - formed a strange but loyal friendship, a friendship that was to last even through the terrible years of oppression and betrayal during the time of South Africa under Apartheid.
The transformation of strangers into the closest of confidantes is the subject of this provocative, lyrical coming-of-age novel by South African writer Jooste (Dance with a Poor Man's Daughter). Frieda Woolf is a lonely Jewish girl whose family's poverty is compensated for by their goodwill and generosity. Her wise father, Aaron, plays saxophone most nights at Johannesburg clubs and hotels, and Frieda misses him terribly when he's gone. Her mother, Miriam, busies herself with caring for Frieda's younger, chronically ill brother, Davey, and trying to find a husband for her live-in sister, Sadie. Min Campbell is a blonde spitfire who aspires to be like her doctor father, Tom, whose life's work is helping native Africans at his rural clinic. She spends much of her time with Justin, her beloved young brother. Her coldhearted mother, Julia, married for money and is bitter about living in the bush when she could be a swinging socialite in the city. Min's father dies, and Julia remarries her version of Mr. Right: the wealthy and connected and racist Gerald Delaney. Eager to be alone, the honeymooners call on the Woolfs (Julia and Miriam were old school chums) to look after Min for the summer of 1964. Perhaps because of their similarly mixed backgrounds, Frieda and Min become best friends. Na ve Frieda is unsure of her place in the world, and fearless Min knows her role is to save it. Despite distance and time, over the next 30 years the young women's friendship grows stronger, comforting them as they stumble through individual rites of passage and the mounting atrocities of apartheid. Through their eyes, Jooste paints an honest, heart-wrenching portrait of modern South Africa.