Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels

Since I had a lot to say about both of the novels I’ve finished reading so far in July, I decided not to wait until my August 7 blog post to tell you about them. One was set in South Africa during the Second Boer War. The other was set on an island in South Carolina in beginning in 2004. Quite a contrast in location and time!

The Lost History of Stars, by Dave Boling

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The History of Stars, by Dave Boling

One of the categories I chose for my 2017 Reading Challenge was to be sure to read a book that takes place on each of the seven continents. Without that being part of my personal challenge, chances are I would not have read The Lost History of Stars, by Dave Boling.

I’m amused at people who brag that they only read nonfiction. They think there is nothing to be learned from fiction. I used to fall into that category. I was a nonfiction snob, so my sister couldn’t believe it when I told her in 2001 that I was taking a fiction writing course.

I minored in history in college, but what little I learned about the Second Boer War has long since been forgotten. The Lost History of Stars is a novel about that 1899-1902 war in South Africa. It follows an Afrikaner family throughout the war. It is not a history of that war, and I admit that I still know few details of it; however, from reading this book I learned that the British burned the homes and farms of many Afrikaners and rounded up the women and children and put them in concentration camps. Disease and malnutrition were rampant in those camps.

From the inside flap of the book’s cover, I learned that “some 3,500 Afrikaner farmer-soldiers lost their lives. However, in the concentration camps, hastily assembled by the British forces to limit resistance among the general populace, the human toll was much higher:  it was there, while their husbands and fathers were away fighting, that more than 26,000 women and children died.” Take time to reread this paragraph and let the injustice set in.

It is interesting to me that the author, Dave Boling, was inspired to write this novel after learning that one of his grandfathers was a British soldier in South Africa during the Second Boer War. That must be the reason he wrote about a camp guard who did not wish to be there, finding it distasteful to be guarding women and children in a concentration camp.

The book is written with chapters alternating between the farm and the concentration camp. Some chapters took place in the concentration camp, and then the next chapter took place a year earlier on the farm. I would have preferred the book being written in chronological order, but that’s just my personal preference.

This is a story of family loyalty and the sheer strength of will to survive.

 

Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin

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Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin

Author Wiley Cash recommended the writings of Gail Godwin. She has had two novels published – Flora and Grief Cottage. I decided to read Grief Cottage first. It’s her new book.

Grief Cottage is set on an island in South Carolina in 2004 and partially in North Carolina in 2018. Eleven-year-old Marcus is an orphan who has been sent to South Carolina to live with his Aunt Charlotte. Charlotte is an artist and is used to living alone.

Marcus takes on the project of finding out the names of the couple and son who were lost when Hurricane Hazel hit 50 years ago in 1954. They were vacationing on the island and staying in what later became known as Grief Cottage when Hurricane Hazel hit. I thought the climax of the book would be when Marcus learned the names of those three people, but that happened less than halfway through the book.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought the story dragged in places and some information was repeated two or three times. That aside, I did enjoy the book.

Marcus’s mother had given him a picture of his father and promised to tell him his father’s name when he got older. She was killed in an automobile accident before that happened. It wasn’t until the last page of the epilogue (set in 2018) that Marcus learns the name of his father.

There are subplots that include such things as loggerhead turtle eggs and hatchlings, Charlotte’s paintings, alcoholism, and bullying. The plot takes a huge turn in the second half that I didn’t see coming. In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t say more.

I’ll probably read Gail Godwin’s other novel, Flora, after I check off a few more items on my 2017 Reading Challenge.

Until my next blog post

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

I hope each of you has a good book to read. I’m reading The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins for Rocky River Readers Book Club this month; The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle; The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff; and Bird  by Bird:  On Writing and Life, by Anne Lamont. (This is what happens when all the books you’ve been on the waitlist for at the public library come in at the same time!)

Excuse me while I get back to my reading.

Janet

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