CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2008.
234 pp., pbk., $11.99.
South Africa-History-Juvenile fiction.
South Africa. Truth and Reconciliation Commission-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Kim wrapped the leopard print bedspread around herself. Her eyes were so heavy she could barely keep them open. The voices in the other room had died down. Her uncle, who had left Bliksem alone in the Land Rover, would have to return soon to the farm.
Kim placed her pillow at the small of her back and collapsed into it, her father's notebook on her lap. She blinked her tired eyes trying to focus on the lettering that was on the inside of the back cover. She angled the notebook so it caught the light from the moon. There it was: Afrika, Afrika, Afrika was scribbled over and over.
Her spirits lifted. All these years her mother could keep secrets because they were in Canada - where no one knew their story, where there were no relatives, no one to question anything. But that was no longer the case.
She shivered and pulled the leopard cloth tighter around her shoulders. She was now in the same country, likely the same city as her father. She had never been this close to him. Surely it was only a matter of time before they would meet.
When 13-year-old Kim leaves Canada and goes with her mother to South Africa for three months, she is confronted with a variety of new and puzzling experiences. Her South African relatives speak Afrikaans. The students at her new school don't understand or accept her. Along with the cottage for Kim and her mother comes Lettie, a stout black woman who is the maid and who lives in a shed in the garden.
Riana, Kim's mother, is a journalist who has returned home to South Africa to cover the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Canadian media. Just as the Commission tries to heal the wrongs of Apartheid, Riana, herself, needs to heal relationships broken by her love for Kim's father and subsequent move to Canada. Kim sees the effects of both the Commission hearings and her African family on the emotions of her mother and begins to understand, at least in part, why her mother felt forced to act as she did and why she has kept so many secrets from Kim.
With the help of Themba, the son of the family's long-time servant, Kim eventually learns about her own past as well as the difficult and segregationist past of South Africa. She understands that truth and reconciliation, or forgiveness, are not just the name of some government measure but are the cornerstones for building good relationships on any level.
Author Colleen Craig lived in South Africa in the 1980s and experienced Apartheid firsthand, and thusly her novel is very realistic. We see Cape Town and the famous Table Mountain which dominates the city. Kim pays a visit to Robben Island to see the cell where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. The train ride to the family farm, Melkweg, takes Kim into the countryside, the Karoo, where "the sky was way too big for the land that was way too big for the sky." Along with the detailed geographical setting, readers are able to share realistic accounts of how Apartheid worked and its horrific effects on ordinary Africans of all backgrounds.
Afrika has elements of a love story, an adventure and a mystery and is hard to put down. The story is complex and takes readers to both a geographical place and a political/historical situation in a very realistic and personal way. Themes of finding the truth and the forgiveness of wrongs are woven throughout the novel on every level, and readers, like Kim, learn a great deal not only about South Africa but also about how racism and prejudice are closer to us that we might want to believe.
This young adult novel is excellent and should be in public and school libraries everywhere.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has turned her love of travel into a new career as a travel consultant.
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