Stones for My Father
by Trilby Kent (Author)
Kent's novel traces the journey to maturity, both literally and figuratively, of South African Boer teenager, Corlie Roux, after the death of her adored father condemns her to her mother's loveless cruelty. It is a suffering exacerbated by the maternal care and protection enjoyed by her brothers. Corlie's emotional stability comes from her family's black servants, especially Sipho, who was 'gifted' to her at birth.
Set at the time of the Boer War, the novel focuses on how the young girl's sense of familial fear, displacement and loss is mirrored in the experience of the wider community terrorised by the British invasion and by the ensuing persecution. It is the children's sighting of soldiers that led to the Roux household fleeing their home for the protection of the bush and the search for their neighbours who are also seeking safety. Creeping back hours later, Corlie and her brother witnessed their house being torched by the invaders. One soldier, seeing the children, urged them to run, thereby saving them from the barbarity of his fellow fighters.
Barbarity is not restricted to the British. Sipho's undeserved whipping is carried out by a racist and brutal Boer. It is an act that Sipho repays with murder. Corlie's last sight of her beloved friend is of him bound and being led to trial and inevitable execution by the British. The inhumanity integral to the concentration camps in which the Boers are housed is judiciously handled by the author. While her detail is never gratuitous, she does not shrink from the depiction of the horrors of endemic starvation, disease and death. It is here that Corlie's brother dies, her distraught mother yelling that she wishes Corlie was dead in his stead. During this vehement attack the reason for the woman's hatred of her daughter becomes apparent. With the irrevocable destruction of their relationship the girl takes sanctuary with the military. Here she is reunited with the soldier who saved her life and while the reader is left with an implied future of security and new beginnings, the warmth of this reassurance is marred somewhat by the romantic cliché that ends the novel.
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