Not just another exile novel

27 September 2005

South Africans like me living abroad might find the descriptions of our home country sketched in Troy Blacklaws’ Karoo Boy resonant with the memories we treasure in our own hearts – full of textures and colours and sounds we miss, painfully beautiful, exaggerated into the romantic.

Non-South Africans reading with a more critical historical eye might wonder at the absence of political detail in a novel set in the era of Steve Biko’s death and the Soweto uprising. They will remark at the over-simplistic way “liberal” whites versus “conservative” whites and “good” blacks versus “bad” whites are pigeonholed.

South Africans at home might label it another novel written by a South African in exile.

There’d be merit in all of the above.

Troy Blacklaws Blacklaws, who lives in Germany, said of his debut novel: “I wrote Karoo Boy partly as a reply to Disgrace, as I found JM Coetzee’s South Africa relentlessly bleak. I have not shied away from violence and cruelty, but have focused on a sensuous, filmic evocation of South Africa, ending on a note of hope.

“Coetzee writes of Africa with a scalpel. I write with a stubby, chewed pencil.”

With his poetic style and liberal sprinkling of phrases that makes you smell Muizenberg’s beach and feel the sun blasting down on the Karoo, Blacklaws certainly succeeds in vividly colouring in Coetzee’s bleak landscape and adding hope to the South African story.

“Filmic” it certainly is – in fact, South African producer Anant Singh has just acquired the movie rights to the book, after a bidding war with two UK-based companies. The script of Karoo Boy will go into production in 2006 and will be directed by South African commercials director Sunu Gonera.

From Cape to Karoo
The delicately woven novel tells the story of how 14-year-old Douglas deals with loss and grief after his twin brother Marsden dies in a freak accident. He has to leave behind a leisurely childhood of surf and sun in the Cape and move with his mother to a small and arid Karoo town where she turns to painting full time while he is left to deal with the tough local Afrikaner boys.

Two friends lead Douglas on the journey through adolescence, helping him deal with his pain and find himself: the rebellious Marika, who lights the flame of teenage passion in him, and Moses, a petrol attendant who has been stranded in the Karoo after his dompas was stolen. Moses becomes a father figure in Douglas’s life and, by telling him of his own initiation time with the abakwetha, gets Douglas to see his time in Klipdorp as a rite of passage to manhood.

Singh said of the book: “We immediately knew that it would make a compelling film and set out to acquire the rights. Karoo Boy is a story of grief and loss and about a special relationship between two individuals from vastly different backgrounds. It is a delicate yet absorbing story and will translate well into film.”

Singh and Gonera have their work cut out for them if they are to attempt to capture the nostalgic beauty of South Africa in film the way Blacklaws has in this easy reading and sumptuous novel.

Source: SA Times