Strongly reminiscent of Joy Packer's writings, but with a great deal more depth and multidimensionality, Joan Schrauwen's The Salt of My Desire, set in South West Africa during the second half of the twentieth century, is remarkable for the multiple viewpoints from which she speaks. In turn, all the major characters have an opportunity to express their point of view and perspective on the central themes of the novel. The interplay between the various characters is all the richer for them being empowered in this way to express their individuality and knowledge in their different fields of expertise. Ranging from the Byronic hero, Nicholas Nordman Jr., who was born a half-caste child from a relationship between a local Nama girl and a Dutch farmer, but who was totally accepted into the latter's household, through the leading female protagonist, Emilie (who is the key narrator, speaking in the first person, while the others are presented in the third person), Emilie's Zaire-born minder, Shaba, to the Bushman, 'Ki, each adds a different dimension to the politically informed and romantic landscape of this novel.
Joan Schrauwen has extensive personal experience of the South West African landscape and it shows, not only in her intimate knowledge of the various peoples of this war-torn and troubled land, but also in her sensitive grasp of the environmental aspects of which she writes. She is largely a product of this country, and has an amazingly perceptive and insightful view of the geographical, linguistic and political entities that have gone into making the country what it is today. Her linguistic command of the vernacular languages shows throughout, as she interposes expressions that are native to the land. Her overview of the relationship between the Angolan forces and the ruling authorities in South West Africa during the time of the Angolan civil conflict provides valuable commentary on the military and political events of the day.
As an artist who illustrates her own work with line drawings, Schrauwen has an incredibly poetic outlook on the land and its people, which has more recently been shown in her non-fiction work, West Coast: A Circle of Seasons in South Africa, that describes in loving and familiar detail the history and biodiversity of the West Coast of South Africa, which she has now made her home. One feels the intensity of her vision reflected through the various characters in The Salt of My Desire. One of Emilie's dearest memories is of "the scent of lemon leaves and dust after the first rains" and Nord (a.k.a. Nicholas Nordman Jr.), as a child, loves flinging himself down in the river sand until spots of mica dance before his eyes, clinging "to leaves and blades of grass so that the world shone with silver". Schrauwen's respect for, and appreciation of, other cultures permeates the text—and, as she expresses her admiration for their language, their stories, and their heritage, you, as the reader, start to empathise more and more deeply with what she has to say. She comes across as a wonderfully warm, sincere and well-meaning person, and I have only admiration for the rich texture of her work.
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About the reviewer
Lois Henderson (LoisCHenderson)
Jun 26, 2013
Jun 26, 2013 05:15 PM UTC