'But Deliver Us from Evil' is a powerful novel of two feisty, rebellious women

Lauri Kubuitsile's novel is set in 19th century Bostwana, a violent world where friendships and alliances are fluid and belief systems are used and abused in a desperate struggle for power and understanding

30 July 2019 - 13:17 By Margaret von Klemperer
'But Deliver Us from Evil' throws a spotlight on a past that is all too often simplified or airbrushed out of existence.
'But Deliver Us from Evil' throws a spotlight on a past that is all too often simplified or airbrushed out of existence.
Image: Penguin Random House

Published in the Witness: 29/07/2019

Botswana writer Lauri Kubuitsile has set her latest novel in the last quarter of the 19th century, a time when traditional societies, missionaries and Boers attempting to escape from the English in the Cape were colliding in Botswana, with predictably disastrous results.

The story opens when Nthebolang’s childhood is shattered after her father is accused of witchcraft and killed. She and her mother become outcasts until they find shelter under the protection of Kgosi Secele 1. He was a real king who allowed missionaries into his land and converted to Christianity, and in the novel finds work for Nthebolang and her mother at the mission house.

In a parallel strand of the story, the Koranna people of the Gariep are battling for their land with the Griqua and the Boers, and, after a failed raid, Beatrice, who is very light-skinned, is taken off to an orphanage in Cape Town, mistaken for a kidnapped white child. Intractable and wild, she is eventually married off to a missionary – a nasty piece of work – and sent off to Ntsweng where she meets up with Nthebolang.

In essence, Kubuitsile’s novel is the story of two independent and feisty women whose rebellion against the norms of their time and society is driven by what has happened to them in childhood and whose lives are shaped by the clash of cultures they are living through. This clash creates a violent world, where friendships and alliances are fluid and belief systems are used and abused in a desperate struggle for power and understanding.

The historical background is an important component of the story and Kubuitsile manages to avoid the obvious division of groups and people into good and bad. While the missionaries are not spreading peace and light, whatever their official motivation may be, the traditional society is no pastoral bliss either, riven as it is by cruelty and injustice.

Both Beatrice and Nthebolang are flawed, fully realised characters and while the ending is maybe a little too pat, But Deliver Us from Evil is a powerful novel that throws a spotlight on a past that is all too often simplified or airbrushed out of existence


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