Apartheid. Nelson Mandela. Cricket. Rugby. Charlize Theron. Vuvuzelas.
I've read some Bryce Courtenay and Wilbur Smith novels.
My daughter's boyfriend is South African and he's told me at least three interesting stories.
But when I started reading Russell Eldridge's debut novel, Harry Mac, I realised I didn't know much at all.
Thankfully, this fascinating story is told through the eyes of a young boy, and I learned about the turmoil in his country in the 60s, at his pace, with his innocence. As he matured and became aware of his and his family's standing in society, learned the consequences of certain actions, and tried to understand the political unrest in his country, I felt I too knew a little more with every page I turned.
Tom and Millie are best friends who live in a quiet lane, hang out together after school, and have secret meetings in an abandoned house, where they share their stories and try to make sense of the adults around them. Tom, who suffers from polio, feels the biggest mystery is the black car which drives slowly up the lane every night.... at least until he overhears something which he believes entwines him in a deadly secret with his dad, Harry Mac.
Harry is the editor of the local newspaper. A strong man prone to secrets and long silences, Harry is seemingly unafraid when it comes to protecting his family and his freedom of speech; a freedom which is being eroded by the regime the citizens find themselves living under in this new Republic.
With secret meetings and unrest on the increase, Mandela in hiding, and his eldest son conscripted into service, Harry continues to push the buttons of those 'higher up', and a series of shocking events and discoveries threaten to tear young Tom's world apart.
Not something I might normally choose to buy for myself, I must thank Allen & Unwin for sending me this book, as I genuinely found this story interesting and wonderfully written. Russell Eldridge has created an image of not only the physical environment Tom lived in, but the temper of the times. I still don't 'know' South Africa, and possibly never truly will, but I have definitely become more acquainted with her.
A fabulous debut novel.
I gave it four stars on Goodreads.