Book Review: The Afrikaner
Author: Arianna Dagnino
Available in print and electronic formats (epub & kindle)
Review by Constance van Niekerk
Dagnino, Arianna. The Afrikaner. Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2019. ISBN 978-88-6411-131-5
Arianna Dagnino’s novel is an intricately woven tale of a young white Afrikaner woman who loses her lover and workmate at Wits University – an Italian palaeontologist, Dario Oldani. Dr Oldani, who has been working in South Africa for the past two years, meets his fate in Johannesburg in the early hours of the morning on his way home. Was it a racially motivated murder that robbed Dr Zoe du Plessis of her lover, or was it just an unfortunate incident? After the death of her lover, Zoe sojourns in solitude on a journey of self-discovery, healing and unearthing deep family roots. Arianna displays her artistic skills in this finely crafted yarn of politics, science, history and romance that entwine so beautifully and captivate the reader.
Dagnino’s transcultural novel is written in English and has a few Afrikaans words. So, the book begins with a glossary, giving explanations of the Afrikaans and slang words used in the book.
After the glossary is a Prologue which begins with, ‘Klim Uit!’ Afrikaans for, ‘Get out!’ The author does not waste any time putting the reader in South Africa, the setting of the book, in the heart of Johannesburg, shortly after South Africa’s Independence (at the end of apartheid). There is still tension in the new Rainbow nation: while for some the transition is easy to adjust to, for some others it takes longer.
After Dario’s incident, Arianna takes us on an expedition with Zoe from the city into the deserts, through mountains and past oceans: a delightful discovery of South African landscapes. We are introduced to different kinds of people: a Rastafarian, Bushmen, Xhosa, a domestic worker, a Boer, just to mention a few.
I absolutely enjoyed every moment with Zoe, the main character of “The Afrikaner.” I felt her every emotion, her pain, her anxiety, her fatigue. She became so real that I could even smell her. It was very easy for me to relate to this saga as I live in South Africa and naturally wish to learn about the history of this country. Zoe can easily represent South Africa: a young land that has suffered so much injustices, so much heartache, pain, violence and bloodshed. But she has to move on. She has to be strong. She has to find her strength in herself, in her deserts, in her oceans and rivers, in her people and in their diversity in culture and language. She has to move away from the place of pain and start afresh on a clean slate. Unfortunately, as Kurt says at page 229, “The past always resurfaces.” Humankind’s past, our individual past and our nation’s past. It cannot be buried and remain buried. How to handle it when it resurfaces is the main issue. Cyril says at page 184, “Diversity is healthy. We can accept each other and be together without giving up our differences. It’s useless – even foolish – to reduce us to a common denominator.” Kurt sums it up, “The Tribes of this country – the white, the black, the coloured – share a long history. Sure, a bloody and violent one. But we’ve been together for hundreds of years now […] This common lived history should be the foundation of our new country.”
The Afrikaner is a story that takes us to the past, the present and the future of South Africa. It gives us hope, as a nation. It speaks a message of love, forgiveness and peace. I am so glad I read this book. I could read it again and recommend it to every South African and anyone living in South Africa. Hats off Ms Dagnino. I give The Afrikaner 4 stars!
Arianna penned several books which include Jesus Christ Cyberstar (2004), Heaven Can Wait No Longer (2009) and Fossili (2010) to mention a few. She holds a PhD in Sociology and Comparative Literature (with a special focus on Transcultural Studies, Creative Writing and World Literature) from the University of South Australia and a Master’s degree in Modern Languages and Literatures from the Università degli Studi di Genova, Italy. Arianna is a literary translator and creative writer. She is also a lecturer at The University of British Columbia. She will be presenting “The Afrikaner” in South Africa at the Free State Arts Festival at the end of June 2020. She will thus be able to return to South Africa after 20 years since she visited our country.
Where to find the book in South Africa
Interested readers in SA can buy the book through Amazon, both in print and digital format
|What inspired this book? The book is inspired by the five years (1996-2000) the author spent in newly post-apartheid South Africa as an international reporter for the Italian press. This is what Dagnino says about the reason for writing it: “I was interested in portraying the historical complexities and tensions of South African society. I thought of doing so by telling the story of a female scientist, Zoe du Plessis, a conflicted woman of Afrikaner origin. I also wanted to convey the engulfing beauty and dry harshness of the southern African landscape; thus I sent Zoe first across the Karoo and then on a field expedition into the Kalahari Desert, in northern Namibia. I also felt obliged to create some memorable characters who, although stemming from my imagination, could represent the multifarious ways of being in the world of the South African people, with their different cultures, ethnicities, languages, and worldviews. For this reason, Zoe’s journey of atonement and self-discovery leads her to memorable encounters with some memorable characters, including a troubled writer, a Bushman shaman, a Xhosa entrepreneur, and a Zulu Border War veteran.”|
Arianna Dagnino, photos provided