A novel of awakening and atonement, this exquisitely realised story revisits a seminal boyhood moment as it plays out — with unexpected and sinister consequences — against the backdrop of political upheaval in South Africa.
For one long, intense week in October, 1962, it looked like the world might end as the Cuban Missile Crisis brought with it an East-West stand-off and the possibility of nuclear holocaust. This dark, bittersweet novel evokes the fear and confusion of the period through the experience of a young boy caught up in South Africa’s political unrest following the Sharpeville massacre, Nelson Mandela’s arrest and the State of Emergency.
When Paul Harvey, sensitive, isolated and desperate to fit in at school despite his English parents, is invited to join the most popular pupil’s gang, he will do whatever is required to please the ringleader Andre du Toit. Little does he realise that du Toit is acting for his father and their friendship is a cover for finding out more about Paul’s parents and their friends.
A charismatic teacher tries to teach the boys about what is happening in the world around them and they become suddenly aware of life beyond the school boundaries. The pupils sense hidden dangers looming, Paul’s parents hear of the house arrest of a left-wing friend, the far-right is in the ascendant and South Africa is no longer safe.
Now a man in his sixties and living abroad, Paul is drawn back to Pretoria to revisit his boyhood home. It has taken him most of his life to grasp and make sense of his past: the other boys, the masters, his own and du Toit’s parents who so puzzlingly controlled his world and the part he unwittingly played in the drama that unfolded around them all.