Book review: Sarie, but you lost the plot

19 July 2016 - 10:27 By Lin Sampson

This book combines a vivid portrayal of people and places with the forcefulness of an ironic political parable. The storyline rappels over a jungle of different turfs that perforates political boundaries.Heinrich Böhmke is one of the few writers who breaks silence on the First Indigenous People and their descendants, too often treated shabbily by their white cousins - "walking the same roads to work and church, with many of the same ways; granting you no exemption from segregation".The daughter of a politicised family says when her father dies, "Daddy didn't have the heart for South Africa. Not to fight the Boere or ride the gravy train with the comrades."The cast (yep it could go big screen) includes white trash, black trash, Boere and privileged politicians who use ethnicity like a combat weapon.Khaya is assistant to "the premier": here is someone we should all recognise as a survivor, moderately criminal, "he had little difficulty in lying", with his main aim to keep the premier happy until the railway contract has been signed. An extraneous character called Harry, who I suspect is the author's mouthpiece, turns up unexpectedly with some keen insights on post-apartheid strugglers: "Small-time fraudsters were not as much greedy as desperate to fund a suburban lifestyle."The main protagonist is the eponymous Sarie, a boeremeisie, who is caught in the time warp of a colonial settler of the 18th century - a literary conceit that doesn't work but casts light on another main character, Dr Michael Appolis, a clinical psychologist, whose father, a disillusioned ANC supporter, says: "The ANC leadership was too full of dirty-pants Africans to intelligently usher socialism in."Appolis discovers that he has Khoi ancestors with evocative names like Jan Kaffer, Hans Trompetter, Overland the Defector, and the intimation is that the misery of Sarie's situation is the misery of Michael's people, the Khoi.Although the book is tagged "a murderous cocktail of sex, greed, and post modern South African racial psychosis", it fails to lock down the complicated plot with the necessary suspense due to Böhmke's sly academic learning that slithers into the subtext that promises blackmail, gangsta drugs and rough sex (there's one very graphic scene) but never quite delivers.One problem is that South Africa's history is a bleeding wound that few crime novels can rival.The book is bound by telling detail: the guy we all know who plonks his Merc keys on the table, to the scary fashion sense Afrikaner madams bequeathed to their garish successors in the new elite. There are some wonderful descriptions: "hair that resembled sea anemones attached to her scalp" and a whole glossary of new words.But, the plot disintegrates towards the end and the scold in me wished to recast the whole book, and bring sharper closure.The ending is ambiguous, with a face-off between Sarie and Appolis in the sea and it's not clear whether Appolis survives, or has he once again been klapped by a whitey?Sarie is published by Martial, R150

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