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Weeping Water, by Karin Brynard.

November 8, 2017

Weeping WaterWeeping Water, by Karin Brynard.  World Noir, April 2018. Translated by Isobel Dixon and Maya Fowler.  Forthcoming!

5 stars   FAVORITE

A superb novel, a well-crafted murder mystery, a fine rendering of complex characters, and an account of how the shift to fairer treatment of one group brings fierce reaction from another in South Africa and wherever the process is occurring.

Karin Brynard is an Afrikaner who grew up in the northern cape of South Africa, the setting for this book. She worked as a political reporter covering the freedom struggles in the 1980s.  When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, she was a political correspondent for a national Sunday paper with a privileged view of events. She has published two previous award-winning novels.  Weeping Water was originally published in Afrikaans and was translated into English by Maya Fowler and Isobel Dixon; both of them are native people of the region.

Brynard has written a fine mystery with lots of conflict and suspense, but she has done much more in Weeping Water.  She has created a variety of complex characters who change and develop as they are forced to face what is happening to them and those around them.  In addition she reveals the economic, political, and social tensions awash in rural South Africa after the ending of apartheid.  Afrikaners, non-Afrikaner whites, and a variety of blacks interact, threatening each other with loss of wealth, power and identity

No character is a simple stereotype of his or her heritage, but land reform has resulted in resentment, greed and disappointment that structure the conflicts.  Some of the major characters are non-Afrikaner whites.  Inspector Albertus Beeslar is the police officer, a classic detective who is newly arrived in the small town after a murky experience as a cop in Johannesburg.  He is called in when a young woman, Fredericka Swarts, and her adopted child are found killed in their isolated farm house.

Fredericka’s estranged sister, Sarah, proves essential to solving the mystery. They face a variety of Afrikaners; a rabble-rouser and his parents who simply want to return to a non-violent past and a farmer who had fallen in love with Fredericka.  Blacks also play key roles in the book. They include Beeslar’s clueless rookies, the woman who had been a nanny for the Swartz sisters, and Dam the educated, competent farm manager whom the Afrikaners try to blame for the killing. Brynard calls him “the new South African.  As one of the characters remarks, all believe that they have been abandoned by those in power in their country.

The harshness and the beauty of the Kalahari is ever-present in the book and as is the simple presence of heat on people trying to function there. The name of the farm at the center of the book is Huilwater, which translates as Weeping WatersAs in any semi-desert land, access to water is essential to the plot.

 I had known that South Africa had problems after the end of apartheid, but I had only a vague sense of what was happening there.  Brynard helped me understand the country’s ongoing conflicts.  I also came away from the book with a deeper grasp of the conflicts that are occurring in my own country and in all regions where power is shifting.

I recommend this book to a variety of readers, including those who care about people and social/political issues and those who enjoy books full of suspense and conflict.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2017 2:37 pm

    Will definitely check this book out once I have time to read for leisure again.

  2. November 8, 2017 3:57 pm

    LOL Marilyn, I was going to recommend Malla Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper series to you – until I remembered that it was you who recommended it to me!

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