I received a free copy of this book from BookLookBloggers in exchange for an honest review. Honestly? I loved it!
This is the first book by Irma Joubert I’ve read and I’m hooked. The Child of the River is Pérsomi Pieterse, middle child of a bywoner (sharecropper) family in South Africa’s Bushveld. She idolizes her older brother Gerbrand, despises her father Lewies, is friends with the landowner’s son Boelie Fourie, loves her mountain, is clever, self-reliant, brave, and can run like the wind.
We join Pérsomi’s family in 1938, a time when feelings in S. Africa are running high against Britain, people who join to fight on their side are derisively called “red tabs”, and Gerbrand leaves to find work in the city. Because he won’t be there to protect her, Gerbrand tells Pérsomi to run in the night if Lewies or Piet try to touch her. And she does. Whenever she hears Lewies coming in the night into the room where the children all sleep on mattresses on the floor, Pérsomi slips out and runs to her cave on her mountain where she always feels safe. Gerbrand also tells her that Lewies isn’t her biological father. She soon learns there are advantages and disadvantages to this. This is also a time when whites are beginning to be unsettled by the number of Indians, blacks, and coloureds (people from Europe or Asia of mixed ethnic background) settling in the middle of their towns. As the story progresses through the end of WWII and into the era of apartheid, we see Pérsomi given an opportunity to complete high school, win scholarships to university, and eventually enter into an established law firm where she not only becomes accepted into society but a fierce fighter for the rights of all South Africans. We see her foiled in love and learn to be content with her work and her extended family. We see her become admired and respected by many segments of society.
Joubert is an amazing story teller, drawing the reader into the world of S. Africa’s rural, town, and city life at a time of intense unrest and division. She carefully develops her characters and we are captivated by Pérsomi’s struggle to determine who she is, who her father might be, her fierce need to understand the complicated relationships around her, and her constant principles despite the danger and derision toward her that sometimes arises out of the strength of her convictions. Joubert’s prose is exquisite, her words rich with meaning, and her story beautifully connected. Her background as a history teacher for 35 years gives us confidence in the accuracy of her political detail and gives us much insight into the two sides of the racist division the world recognizes as apartheid and how it came to be. Joubert includes a glossary of Afrikaans terms at the front of the book. A truly compelling book. * * * * *