THE BOOK: A narrative counterpoint between two women, two South Africas. Kristien Muller returns from London to her homeland to fulfil a promise. Her grandmother lies on her deathbed unleashing a turmult of myth, legend and brute fact. Confronted by the realities of a land hurtling towards change, Kristien discovers that the present holds its own moments of savagery. A searing panorama of South Africa's experience, reminiscent in its political & imaginative scope of Marquez's One Hundred Years Of Solitude.
South Africa as a new nation is barely two years old, and already it has a magnificent, world-class celebratory novel (though it could have done with a more meaningful title). Spirited, compassionate Kristien Muller, who long ago left her native country for Britain, returns to the bedside of her beloved grandmother Ouma. The very old lady, living alone in a fantastic mansion built in the veld by her eccentric ancestors, has been badly burned in a fire apparently set by some mischievous boys on the eve of the elections that will change South Africa. Kristien's sister Anna still lives in the neighborhood, unhappily married to Casper, the kind of conservative Boer who is convinced the country is going to hell. The clashes between Kristien, with her instinctive liberalism, and the glum, suspicious police types who surround Casper create an instant electricity that never flags. Much of the book is taken up with a series of hypnotically wonderful tales old Ouma spins from her sickbed about the incredible women in her family. The old woman's stories add up to a kind of national history illuminated by magic, as well as by a powerful feminine spirit that sees men, with their quarrels and rivalries, as obstacles to happiness, good only for breeding. That a male writer could have created so intensely female a vision--and it is matched by hauntingly empathetic observation of young daughters and uneasy sisters--seems almost miraculous. The book has two overwhelming climaxes, an election-day scene that joyfully catches the spirit of a nation turning itself around, and a multiple murder as grimly terrifying as anything in American crime fiction. And the ending, irradiated again by magic, is profoundly moving. Brink (An Act of Terror; States of Emergency) would be a household name here if writers had their just deserts. Author tour.