Writer Wednesday is back…with a twist. Once per month I will tell you the latest book I’ve read by a South African author.
I decided one way I can easily honor living in South Africa for the next couple years is to read at least one book per month by a different South African author and share my thoughts on it with you. I already know I will be repeating some authors who have multiple books on my list, but I want each month to include a new author.
June’s author is Kobie Krüger, and the book I read was All Things Wild and Wonderful. I chose this because on our recent game drive in Pilanesberg, a lady named Nadia told me about it.
We are preparing our first trip to Kruger National Park this year, and the book is written by a game ranger’s wife. It reads in an open journal style, but manages to keep the reader’s attention because, frankly, nothing in the life of a game ranger’s wife, living in the bush of Kruger National Park, is ordinary.
“She raises a lion cub but knows she has to return him to the wild, so she tries teaching him how to hunt. Since the lion thinks he’s a dog, he does whatever the dog does. She makes the dog (and lion) sit and stay, just out of sight in the tall grasses on one side of a larger herd of impala, then quietly works her way to the far side of the herd, unseen. She then jumps up, scaring the impala toward the lion and dog. The lion jumps up, bounds into the herd, ignores them and runs straight through and tackles her instead” –This is how I remember Nadia explaining the book to me. I was hooked.
There are so many things I would love to tell you about this book (like one of my favorite “characters,”: the spitting cobra that lives in her flowerbed) but I don’t want to spoil it. Needless to say her encounters with wildlife are abundant…and original. Each animal becomes a character in its own right, due to the author’s voice. Her somewhat proper narrative style serves as a strangely perfect counterbalance to the wilds around her.
Her liberties with giving thought and intent to pets and wildlife in very human ways adds to the book’s emotional appeal, and her description of the landscape is beautifully lyric.
Cons? I wish I had edited this book. I was a little disappointed at so many errors that Penguin South Africa missed. I would say “granted, it was published in 1996” but my edition was published in 2011, so there has been plenty of time to take care of those little typos. But the little things are just that.
“Game rangers get paid mostly in sunsets.” – Kobie Kruger
The other thing I would have worked on with this book was the structure. So many opportunities were missed to help the author take a riveting situation (lion attack for example) and give just a taste of it at the end of one chapter to pull the reader into the next. There were also situations that seemed to be leading the reader to an epic tragedy, feeling as though a wave were about to crash over you, only to realize the wave had shifted to a soft lapping. While you don’t really want anything tragic to occur, you can’t escape disappointment when there is crescendo but no climax. This occurs, I believe, when a journal-style book is not guided into a more traditional narrative arc with braids fully developed and concluded within that arc, and creating expectations for the reader through that organization.
As it was, as much as I loved the book, I found each chapter a little too easy to dog-ear the page, put it on the nightstand and pick it up the next morning. Had I known what was to come in that next chapter, I would have been up all night being dragged into one scene after another!
STILL a wonderful read. The story itself is so compelling that it’s easy to forgive even the editors. Knowing a few hard-working editors myself, I know that they, also, mostly get paid in sunsets.
One of my favorite sections to mention, is an excerpt from her copy of messages left by locals for her ranger husband, during life at Crocodile Creek:
- Four elephants eating oranges and bananas on Ten Bosch farm. Please fetch.
- Tourist bitten by monkey in camp. Security guard Mabasa says tourist was teasing monkey. Tourist says he wasn’t.
- Nkongoma soldiers and warthogs came to blows. Warthogs won.
- Four-metre python eating chickens on Hensville Farm.
- Two hippos having love affair in irrigation dam at Ten Bosch farm. Farm manager asks please fetch before they multiply.
I bet this is unlike most books you’ve read and I suggest you get a copy. It’s even available now as an e-book. I’ll be reading it again, and am really looking forward to visiting Crocodile Bridge, Pretorius Kop and several other locations she lived and wrote about. I’ll be sure to blog about them when I do!
I will also be reading each of her other books, because I love her voice and perspective on the world around her.
I welcome all suggestions for books by South African authors. I prefer nonfiction but will entertain fiction suggestions as well. Here is my list of hopefuls so far:
Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela Country of my Skull, by Antjie Krog Disgrace, by JM Coetzee Cry the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton Welcome to the Hillbrow, by Phaswane Mpe Fools and Other Stories, by Njabulo Ndebele Come and Hope with Me, by Mongane Wally Serote
It’s over-the-hump day, folks! Hope you’re making big plans for the weekend!