An outsider shining a light on South Africa’s past: Does she succeed?

Johannesburg – Kuba masks

“It’s always interesting to see ourselves, as South Africans, reflected through another’s gaze as author Arianna Dagnino does in The Afrikaner. A multi-cultural author with roots in Italy and now resident in Canada, this novel is based on time she spent in this part of the world.” This is how the South African poet and writer Arja Salafranca starts her review of the Afrikaner (Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019), wondering whether an outsider can actually “shine a light on some of our stories” (Italics is mine). While answering this main question, Arja Salafranca highlights the main theme running through Zoe’s (the Afrikaner of the title) story: “The theme of past and future, of searching for meaning in a past, even while that past might feel redundant […]. Palaeontology serves as a metaphor – Zoe excavating her past and her past guilt as thoroughly as she excavates the sands in the Kalahari.” The answer to her initial question seems to lie in the way Arja reads the function of palaeontology in The Afrikaner: “The story is beguiling – with its elements of palaeontology, the deep need to find out more about our origins, mingled with the newness of the country where the people who have been separated for years are now circling each other with a mixture of hope and confusion […] ” The book works as a love story, an exploration both within and without, and as a paean to a time in our country’s history when we were emerging into something new, with problems that still tentacle our present.”

I thank Arja Salfranca for her review, which you can read in full at this link:

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