The Slave Book

The Slave Book

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The novel opens with Sangora van Java on the block, a ‘Mohametan’ slave who is being sold for preaching his belief to others. Andries de Villiers, a hard-nosed wine farmer, purchases Sangora, despite his suspicion that the tall slave could spell trouble. On impulse, he also bids for Sangora’s 16-year-old stepdaughter, Somiela, but not for the girl’s mother ‘ thereby separating the family. The first days on Zoetewater are traumatic, but both father and stepdaughter survive and find comfort in the unity amongst the slaves on the farm. It is when Harman Kloot, an Afrikaner of mixed blood, arrives from the interior that a second, major crisis develops: Harman is torn between duty to his group and love of a girl who belongs to a different culture and faith. Whatever decision he makes will be seen as betrayal, either of his own people or of the slave community with whom he has found common ground. The Slave Book presents a microcosm of South African society and of the country’s past. Without prejudice, it portrays the different traditions, cultures and faiths of the time, and the tension that resulted from their coexistence. This is the first South African novel to portray the introduction of the Muslim faith to the Cape ‘from the inside’, so to speak. It does it so well that, on publication in 1999, the book was held up to then-Vice President Mbeki as an example of the tolerance and mutual respect needed in ‘one city with many cultures’. The novel is informed by thorough historical research and by a study of the effects of slavery on people. Relevant excerpts introduce the different chapters and inform readers of the different views regarding slavery. Jacobs is a born storyteller who keeps the reader turning the pages.

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