Lewis De Soto's debut novel, A Blade of Grass
, tells the story of Marit Laurens, a young woman of British descent, recently orphaned, who has moved with her new husband Ben to a remote farm on the contested borderland between South Africa and an unnamed country. When Ben is killed by a bomb in an act of guerilla warfare, she decides to stay on and run the farm. Alone in the world, she befriends Tembi, the daughter of her black housemaid, who has also been killed, in an accident. Struggling to transform herself as the surrounding countryside descends into bloody conflict, Marit finds herself caught between the fear and prejudices of the local Afrikaner community and the shifting loyalties and growing feeling of entitlement of the indigenous black workers. When first the Afrikaners and then the blacks flee the area, and the outside world starts to encroach menacingly on the isolated farm, Marit is stripped of everything that gave her a sense of self and a sense of belonging to this place.
A Blade of Grass is a delicate, if at times naively sentimental, exploration of the arc of a courageous relationship between two women from different societies, each an outcast from her own, during the death throes of apartheid: from the rigid structure of master and servant, through the tenderness of the shared experience of aloneness and defiance in the face of societal pressures, to betrayal. De Soto has transformed the quiet immensity of the South African veldt into spare, luminous prose. He contains everything--repression and ownership, belonging and loss, humiliation and hope--in the small gesture, the seed, the blade of grass. The story's brutality is barely graphic in its depiction, but the terror is present nonetheless, lurking insistently beneath the surface, waiting at the edge of the farm. --Diana Kuprel
Quill & Quire
A Blade of Grass, the first novel from Toronto writer and painter Lewis DeSoto, is an impressive, if flawed, debut, a compelling examination of race and place, the personal and the political, in South Africa. DeSoto, a South African immigrant, pulls no punches and offers no platitudes in this harrowing account, not only of relations between the races under apartheid but also of relations within the races, between Boers and British-descended newcomers, between black revolutionaries and farm-workers. Newlyweds Ben and Marit are new arrivals to the rich farming country in northern South Africa, near the border of an unnamed country. Ben is a transplanted Englishman who dreams of land to call his own, of an almond plantation to pass on to his children. Marit grew up an only child in Johannesburg, and married Ben shortly after the accidental death of her parents. They fit uneasily into their community, on good terms with the African farm workers and their Boer neighbours, but Marit is keenly aware of their difference, of how ill-suited she is to life as a farmer's wife. She is also unsettled by the political uncertainty of their district; the young couple was only able to afford their farm because of the area's instability, the incursions of guerillas crossing the border from the north to burn farms and commit other terrorist acts...DeSoto ultimately provides readers with a valuable and unique perspective on the ongoing legacy of racial segregation and violence in South Africa, and the lingering instability of life post-apartheid