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Blade Of Grass [Hardcover]

Lewis Desoto
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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

From Booklist

Part historical fiction, part war-survivor story, this beautiful first novel is above all an intimate drama of two young South African women who cross apartheid barriers in their search for home. The time is the 1970s somewhere near the border. When the civil war comes close and a farmer is killed, his widow refuses to leave with the other whites. Her housekeeper, Tembi, is the only black person to stay on when the government soldiers drive away her people. The story is told from the women's alternating viewpoints as they break down the mistress-servant relationship, care for each other, and work the land, even when they lose electricity, running water, crops, cattle, and all outside contact. Tembi's voice is sometimes too distant, but her personal story brings close the apartheid atrocity of family breakup. With lyrical simplicity, DeSoto evokes the elemental landscape of the veldt that survives even the screaming military jets. In the tradition of Olive Schreiner's classic Story of an African Farm (1883), the focus is on women, their loneliness and strength. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review

“[One] of the most interesting novels to have emerged from South Africa recently…. Brutally effective.” (The Economist)

“This fine first novel is tension-filled and swiftly paced.” (Library Journal)

“[A] beautiful first novel.” (Booklist)

“[A] quietly intense first novel.” (Vancouver Sun)

“Resembles in loose fashion our own master Faulkner’s… novel The Unvanquished.… An intense reading experience… something readers will remember.” (Chicago Tribune)

“A Blade of Grass never falters. It is quite simply a master work by a mature and powerful new voice.” (Ottawa Citizen) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Lewis DeSoto was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. After moving to Canada, he attended the University of British Columbia, where he received a master of fine arts. His writing has been published in numerous literary journals, and he was awarded the Books in Canada/Writers' Trust Short Prose Award. A past editor of The Literary Review of Canada, Lewis DeSoto lives in Toronto and Normandy. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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