Thursday, April 28, 2011
Blog Tour and Giveaway: Stones for My Father, by Trilby Kent (Tundra, 2011)
I am delighted to participate in Tundra Books' blog tour for a moving new novel for young people set during South Africa's Boer War, Stones for My Father. Written by novelist Trilby Kent, who was born in Canada but currently lives in London, this book is her second published novel for young people.
One of the reasons I enjoy historical fiction so much is that it can take you to a place and time you've never experienced. In this case the backdrop for the story is the Boer War, which was disastrous for the British, who are driving the Boers from their farms. We experience this chaotic time through the eyes of Corlie Roux, a skinny young girl living with her stern mother and younger siblings in the Transvaal. Most of the Afrikaner men and young boys are off fighting the British, but Corlie's father is already in the graveyard, having died of consumption. Corlie's only friend seems to be Sipho, an African boy who is her matie, or playmate, and who teaches her the ways of the bush, telling stories together and fishing and tracking animals with her.
But when she and Sipho see the English "khakis" nearby, Corlie and her family flee to the laager, groups of Boers hiding out in the bush. On their journey, Corlie watches helplessly by as she sees their family farm burned by the British. While foraging for food, Corlie and her brother meet a kind Canadian soldier--a Khaki, but one who provides them with some precious meat. They finally meet up with the laager after a trek of many days across the veld, but their safe haven is short lived. Soon discovered by British soldiers, Corlie and all the others are forced to surrender, then sent to a "voluntary refugee camp," which more resembles an internment camp, where the conditions are harsh indeed, with scarce food, water, or other resources for the thousands of women and children imprisoned there. Corlie and her family are "undesirables"--those whose menfolk were still fighting the British, and were given the lowest rations. Soon the children are "numb with boredom," and worse yet, are falling ill to typhoid and other diseases brought on by malnutrition and unsanitary conditions at the camp. Corlie's soon fighting for her life, and her self-worth, discovering a secret about her father that we could only guess at as we read her story, and a secret that reunites her with the kind Canadian whose destiny becomes intertwined with Corlie's.
Kent does a wonderful job evoking the African bush, with "days...so hot that even raindrops would sizzle as they hit the dry earth." She also captures very effectively the inhumanity of war, with the hardships it creates on ordinary civilians, particularly innocent women and children, in her depiction of the "refugee camp." The book includes a very brief epilogue with some historical information; for U.S. readers, most of whom have no familiarity with this period in history, some additional background might have been helpful. I would have enjoyed seeing something more detailed to set this story in better historical context.