Set in nineteenth-century rural Africa, Fiela’s Child tells the gripping story of Fiela Komoetie and a white, three-year old child, Benjamin, whom she finds crying on her doorstep. For nine years Fiela raises Benjamin as one of her own children. But when census takers discover Benjamin, they send him to an illiterate white family of woodcutters who claim him as their son. What follows is Benjamin’s search for his identity and the fundamental changes affecting the white and black families who claim him.
“Everything a novel can be: convincing, thought-provoking, upsetting, unforgettable, and timeless.”—Grace Ingoldby, New Statesman
“Fiela’s Child is a parade that broadens and humanizes our understanding of the conflicts still affecting South Africa today.”—Francis Levy, New York Times Book Review
“A powerful creation of time and place with dark threads of destiny and oppression and its roots in the almost Biblical soil of a storyteller’s art.”—Christopher Wordsworth, The Guardian
“The characters in the novel live and breathe; and the landscape is so brightly painted that the trees, birds, elephants, and rivers of old South Africa are characters themselves. A book not to miss.”—Kirkus Reviews
Fiela Kimoetie cares deeply for the elements in her lifethe farm she owns (no small source of pride for a black South African), her sick husband, once so beautiful, and their children. Of these last, her white child, Benjamin, who wandered into her life at the age of three, is dearest, because there may come a time when he is taken from her. Fiela is prepared to fight if that happens, but her strength doesn't prevail on the day the census-takers discover Benjamin, now 12, and remove him from the open loveliness of the Long Kloof into the confining forest, where a shiftless couple whose son wandered off nine years before lay claim to him. He never accepts the transition of identity from Benjamin to Lukas, nor from Fiela to the woman he is told to call Ma, any more than Fiela accepts his absence, and his feet keep seeking the Long Kloof, where his spirit was free to rise. Benjamin's escape, its involvements and consequences, bring the story to a close in a way perhaps not so persuasive as its beginning; but readers will carry away from Matthee's (Circles in a Forest tale a profound sympathy and affection for Benjamin and Fiela.