My eyes are gritty today. It’s because I cried last night. I cried as I read; I turned pages as I sniffled. I stayed up late, reading Child of the River till the early hours of today.
The book is divided into three parts and set over a period of thirty years.Child of the River begins in 1938 and ends in 1968. It covers the World War II, the Apartheid, the Group Areas Act and forced removals among others. But that is not what this book is about. Child of the River is the story of Pérsomi.
Pérsomi is a young white girl, born to bywoners (illiterate sharecroppers) on the prosperous Fourie farm. The middle child, she often helps her brother Gerbrand around with the chores. When Gerbrand leaves the home to find a job in the mines, she is left alone. Though she still has 5 other siblings, her bond with Gerbrand is special.
The first few chapters tell us about the abuse of one of Pérsomi’s siblings, Sissie, at the hands of their father, Lewies. As I read I wondered how the story would progress. But, Lewies is arrested and Pérsomi helps in putting him up behind bars. She also learns that Lewies is not her father.
Gerbrand had been gone for more than six months when Piet also left for Joburg, and Sissie began to cry at night. But not because she missed her brother.
Social workers are involved in the process, and they help Pérsomi pursue her studies. She eventually becomes a lawyer, like she planned to since the day she helped put Lewies behind bars.
School and college open a new world to Pérsomi. She makes new friends and looks at her life with new insight. The changes in Pérsomi’s life – her brother enlisting to fight the war, his death, the first stirrings of love, war, and racism… all of this change her.
“It’s important to have your own convictions, isn’t it?”
The lessons learnt in life on one side, the story also has Pérsomi striving to make sure that everyone has access to justice. There is also a romance. But Pérsomi’s love life is a moving tale.
All the characters in Child of the River are well thought of. Though I really did want to punch Jemima, Pérsomi’s mother, in the face for being a coward more than a mother.
Child of the River is written well, simple language describing anything from tangerines to utter desolation and heartbreak. Words have the power to make you cry, even when they are just on paper and Irma Joubert manages to do so effortlessly.
“Can you remember what it felt like?”
Pérsomi closed her eyes again and smiled. “Yes, Lientjie, I remember.”
“It’s . . . very nice, isn’t it?”
“Very, very nice,” Pérsomi agreed. “But being in love means you could get hurt, sometimes badly.”
Boelie and Pérsomi’s relationship is something that’s as simple, yet complex like the book. They start off as friends, end up falling in love. Again Jemima deserves to be tarred and feathered because she cannot speak the truth. Pérsomi ends the relationship and Boelie marries someone else. The heartbreak and emptiness that Pérsomi feels come through in how Irma Joubert writes about it. I was happy that eventually, after many years, Boelie and Pérsomi end up together.
“I love you,” he said for the first time in nearly seventeen years.
She stood transfixed.
Child of the River is a book that cannot be restricted to a few words describing it. Through Pérsomi’s life, we get an insight into World War II. We get to know of apartheid from the perspective of the white and the coloured people. Though not detailed, the author does make you want to read up on these topics to understand better.
I thoroughly enjoyed Child of the River and would recommend it to anyone interested in reading something that takes you along to another world.
A page turner, Child of the River, shows you that there is always a dark side to the human being. Yet, there is always hope, love, perseverance and forgiveness that shine brightly even in the darkest of days.
A complimentary copy of Child of the River was provided by BookLook Bloggers in exchange for a review.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars