I'm very much of two minds about this book. On the positive side, it's filled with magic, with beautiful depictions of the African landscape and its complex natural environment and insight into the rich, complex culture of southern Africa the way it was before Europeans destroyed it. The characters are wonderfully developed -- the few remaining Bushmen, the aristocratic Matabele, the Joubert family of Huguenot ancestry who have learned to understand and appreciate the qualities of their native partners. Van der Post's deep love for that land and its peoples shines through constantly.
And that's where it sometimes becomes a problem; he is so intent on conveying all of that richness that he gets preachy and goes into far more detail about every aspect of it, including the thoughts and emotions of Francois, his main character. As a result, the story fails to move forward and I lost patience with it at times.
In the end, while this is a book of fiction the story is only there as a framework upon which Van der Post has constructed a quite scholarly piece of anthropology mixed with natural history, with a bit of political philosophy thrown in. So those who take it up as a coming-of-age story about a boy, his dog and his adventures will likely be frustrated by the endless excursions into topics that do little to advance the story. Further, the fact that its time setting is pre-WWI renders it nostalgic and rather dated, which is a pity.
I choose to accept it for what it is and appreciate the marvellous vistas and insights it provides into a much maligned and poorly understood part of our world, while at the same time acknowledging its flaws.
Absolutely riveting novel about life in Africa's remote wilderness area. You will be endeared to Francisco and Hin.
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