Carol Campbell's third Karoo novel delicate and deeply moving

It’s a black Karoo night and a young woman, covered in blood, is running along a deserted dirt track

15 January 2019 - 11:45 By Sunday Times Books

It’s a black Karoo night and a young woman, covered in blood, is running along a deserted dirt track.

A terrible thing has happened and the woman, Siena, has to reach Seekoegat Primary School at the end of the track, the only place she knows that is safe. It’s a long way to run, a three-day ride on a donkey cart.

This is the story of Siena, Boetie and Kriekie, whose lives intersect as children and who meet again as adults: Boetie is a boy running wild. Deprived and neglected he is always up to mischief but his friendship with Siena gives him self-worth. Kriekie is a basket case. As the child of a prostitute working the truck-stops along the N1 he has no home.

When his mother, Dolly, doesn’t come back, a small act of kindness by a woman running a shop at the truck-stop sees him end up at Seekoegat Primary.

Plodding steadily through each chapter is the spectre of the ancient Karoo tortoise. Siena’s father, Pa, a karretjiemens, reveres the tortoise as a creature that holds within it the wisdom of the ancient landscape and that cries only one tear when it dies.

The Tortoise Cried its Only Tear is award-winning author Carol Campbell’s third book on the Karoo.

Like her previous work this story is a piece of social realism but, for the first time, Campbell introduces hints of magical realism – which is very much in keeping with the world view of the people she writes about.

Carol Campbell is a journalist who writes novels after hours. She covered South Africa’s transition to democracy in 1994 and went on to win a British Council award for education reporting the following year. Her first novel, My Children Have Faces, (Karretjiemense in Afrikaans) based on the donkey cart people of the Great Karoo, was published to critical acclaim in 2013. Her second novel, Esther’s House (’n Huis vir Ester in Afrikaans), on South Africa’s housing crisis, was published by Umuzi in 2014.

Article provided by Umuzi, an imprint of Penguin Random House.