February 10, 2015

A mother watches from beyond the grave

By Miranda Sherry
A victim of a violent post-apartheid attack narrates from beyond the grave Miranda Sherry's unnerving debut novel Black Dog Summer, named for the "black dog" as an ill omen in local folklore.
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It's post-apartheid South Africa and the bloom is off the rose of liberation, at least for dispossessed whites. The economic inequality between the races inaugurates an epidemic of crime, in particular black raids on white farmsteads, much as in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. Some even call the retributions genocide. A victim of one such attack narrates from beyond the grave in Miranda Sherry's unnerving debut novel Black Dog Summer, named for the "black dog" as an ill omen in local folklore.

The novel begins with the incursion and abruptly shifts to the aftermath. Disembodied Sally, the main victim, reports on her daughter Gigi's reaction, which initially involves an excess of prescription tranquilizers. Gigi is forced to live with Sally's sister Adele and Adele's husband Liam, who incidentally had been Sally's true love. Much of the novel concerns this illicit but never consummated connection. Meanwhile, Gigi had resented Sally's actual partner so much that one day she leaves the admittedly flimsy lock on the farm unfastened.

Sherry makes token efforts to depict the historically more victimized side of the racial divide in the person of Lesedi, a songamo or faith healer, who must counter accusations that she is a "whitey" because she is initially destined for more worldly success. But the story mostly concerns the actual whites for whom life in their adopted country has become tenuous—and, for some, untenable. As Gigi's soon-to-emigrate mentor Simone puts it, "I can't live in a country where people can just march into your home and violate everything you've built."

Black Dog Summer is a rather successful combination of murder mystery, ghost story and marital drama, written rather breezily given the machete attack forming its premise. But it will likely interest anyone with a concern for the fate of a nation now fatefully intermingled after centuries of segregation.


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Black Dog Summer

Black Dog Summer

By Miranda Sherry
ISBN 9781476779027

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