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A Blade of Grass by Lewis Desoto
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A Blade of Grass (2003)

by Lewis Desoto

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
This was my book club's pick for June of 2006. It tells the story of two South African women, one white, one black. The year isn't given but it is before the fall of apartheid when white people lived a life of ease and privilege and black people toiled for the whites.

The white woman, Marit, is a recent orphan and a recent wife. She and her husband have moved to land on the border to farm. Marit has no siblings and seems to have had no friends other than her husband and she doesn't make friends with the other farmers' wives. The black woman, Tembi, is a little younger than Marit. At the start of the book her mother, who is the cook for Marit and her husband, is killed by a hit and run driver as she walks to the nearest town in the dark. Tembi's father is a miner and has lived apart from Tembi and her mother for some time except for two weeks of holidays. After the mother's funeral he leaves and never returns. Marit asks Tembi to take her mother's job. The relationship gets off to a rocky start but after Marit's husband is killed by a land mine the two women grow very close. The political situation intensifies and Marit is advised to leave but she really has no where else to go. Through natural disasters and man-made trials Marit and Tembi persevere. The ending is sad but also hopeful in terms of the black populace of South Africa.

I thought this was a beautifully written book. The author was born in South Africa but moved to Canada and now lives, according to the bio, "in Toronto and Normandy". He obviously loves the country of South Africa but hated the political situation. In an interview at the back of the book he says he has never been back to South Africa but now he is planning a trip. I felt, while I was reading the book, like I had taken a trip to South Africa. I would recommend this book to anyone. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 25, 2017 |
I do like an unrelentingly sad novel. Gorgeous imagery and symbols. Maybe a little too sentimental but that didn't bother me. And rusk eating.

Definatly, a novelist to read more of. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Sometimes when I finish a really good book I just can’t wait to dash off to the computer and write my review – I want to tell everyone about it. That’s the way I feel about A Blade of Grass by South African/Canadian author Lewis Desoto, which was longlisted for the Booker in 2004. It’s a story of an inter-racial friendship set on the contested South African frontier in the 1970s during the apartheid era. I found it to be a remarkable debut novel that was engaging from the very beginning yet managed to raise complex issues about entitlement to land; about power and gender; and about the destructive effects of fear of The Other.

So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered from some outraged comments at GoodReads that some readers are very cross about this book. For some, there is too much lyrical description, for others too much symbolism. One who thought that DeSoto also has absolutely no place in writing from a female perspective took issue with the way that the peace and harmony of the relationship between two female protagonists, one Black, one White, is disrupted by jealousy over a man. Someone else is peeved about the stereotyping of entrenched racist Afrikaaners; ambivalent, hopeful Britishers; and resentful, disenfranchised Africans. (There was also a reader who thought it was set during the Boer War. The less said about that the better, eh?) The novel copped a very negative review at Culture Wars too.

I don’t think that I read this novel uncritically, so I was relieved to see not only some positive views amongst the others at GR, but also this one from Quill and Quire. I felt that this novel rendered the complexities of living in a racist society with the respect it deserves. The two central characters, Marït and Tembi, are creatures of the society in which they grew up and their identities are forged by the black/white divide. Even when they transcend this divide, as Desoto renders it, they inevitably retain some habits of thought and behaviour, and in moments of crisis they revert to old habits even if intellectually and emotionally they reject them. This seems entirely realistic to me.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2015/01/25/a-blade-of-grass-by-lewis-desoto/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Oct 5, 2016 |
This book. In A Blade of Grass, Lewis DeSoto took a place and a time, a complicated, beautiful place at a complicated, horrible time and threw it repeatedly in the reader's face. And for all of that (and there is a lot of that), it is primarily a story of a tenuous friendship between two women who should have never become friends, except that they were both lonely and alone.

Tembi grew up in the place her people had always lived, until the man came and told them they would all have to go somewhere else. And when they had been moved, they found the land they had been moved to, a land they had no connection to, could not support them. And so they left; first the men, to work in the mines and then the women, to work as domestic servants. Tembi goes with her mother to live on a farm, where her mother takes care of the house. Tembi, now a young woman, works in the dairy and while she doesn't feel a part of the life of the Kral, she is happy to be with her mother. And then her mother is killed. Tembi is asked to work in the house, but she's not sure she can work for the woman there.

Marit has married an Englishman who wants to be a farmer. They find a farm on good land that they can afford because it is near the border and there has been some unrest, but Ben is both optimistic and determined and he is willing to work hard. Marit's a bit unmoored in this strange place inhabited by stolid Boers and the silent Blacks working for them, but she is willing to support her husband with his dream; it's what she's been raised to do. And then her husband is killed and she is adrift, with only the housekeeper to speak to.

There is an immediacy and a force to DeSoto's writing. The reader is never given a specific time or place to hang the story on, but his descriptions are vivid and kept close by the use of the present tense throughout. This has the effect of making the events in the story carry far more weight as there is no sense of an "afterwards". Both Tembi and Marit were complex characters, which was important in this book of great wrongs and disasters. ( )
2 vote RidgewayGirl | Mar 6, 2014 |
A wonderful, sad book. This story takes place in South Africa and is a snapshot of how apartheid affects one white family and a black woman. After her husband is killed by a hidden underground bomb, Marit finds herself alone on the farm in the midst of civil war. All servants and cropworkers (black) leave except Tembi, a daughter of the family maid (who was killed accidentally). Tembi is a lovely 18 year old girl who feels she's in the middle of apartheid. She is smart and has had formal schooling so she feels slightly higher up than the other blacks. She is kind and truly wants to help Mairt. Marit finds herself determined to keep the farm, not that she had chosen to come here, but she has no where else to go, as she' been recently orphaned now widowed. I came to love them both and wanted them to live together forever with no outside interference. (I see this book being made into a movie.) ( )
  camplakejewel | Oct 29, 2013 |
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First she must wash the seeds.
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Part historical fiction, part war-survivor story, this beautiful novel is above all an intimate drama of two young South African women who cross apartheid barriers in their search for home
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060554274, Paperback)

Lewis De Soto's debut novel, A Blade of Grass, tells the story of Marit Laurens, a young woman of British descent, recently orphaned, who has moved with her new husband Ben to a remote farm on the contested borderland between South Africa and an unnamed country. When Ben is killed by a bomb in an act of guerilla warfare, she decides to stay on and run the farm. Alone in the world, she befriends Tembi, the daughter of her black housemaid, who has also been killed, in an accident. Struggling to transform herself as the surrounding countryside descends into bloody conflict, Marit finds herself caught between the fear and prejudices of the local Afrikaner community and the shifting loyalties and growing feeling of entitlement of the indigenous black workers. When first the Afrikaners and then the blacks flee the area, and the outside world starts to encroach menacingly on the isolated farm, Marit is stripped of everything that gave her a sense of self and a sense of belonging to this place.

A Blade of Grass is a delicate, if at times naively sentimental, exploration of the arc of a courageous relationship between two women from different societies, each an outcast from her own, during the death throes of apartheid: from the rigid structure of master and servant, through the tenderness of the shared experience of aloneness and defiance in the face of societal pressures, to betrayal. De Soto has transformed the quiet immensity of the South African veldt into spare, luminous prose. He contains everything--repression and ownership, belonging and loss, humiliation and hope--in the small gesture, the seed, the blade of grass. The story's brutality is barely graphic in its depiction, but the terror is present nonetheless, lurking insistently beneath the surface, waiting at the edge of the farm. --Diana Kuprel, Amazon.ca

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:09 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Set on the border between South Africa and an unnamed neighboring country in the 1970s, A Blade of Grass is a suspenseful novel about a bitter struggle over a small farm and its dramatic consequences for two women, one white and one black. The story centers on Ma;rit Laurens, a young woman of British descent, recently orphaned and newly wed, who comes to live with her husband, Ben, on their newly purchased farm. Shortly after her arrival, violence strikes at the heart of Ma;rit's world, leaving her alone and isolated. Devastated, confused, but determined to run the farm on her own, Ma;rit finds herself in a simmering tug of war between the local Afrikaner community that surrounds the farm and the black workers who live on it, both vying for control over the land in the wake of tragedy. Ma;rit's only supporter is her black housekeeper, Tembi, who, like Ma;rit, is alone in the world. The women are determined to hold on to the farm, but the quietly encroaching civil war brings out conflicting loyalties that turn the fight for the farm into a fight for their lives. A Blade of Grass is a wrenching story of friendship and betrayal and of the trauma of the land that has shaped post-colonial Africa. Thrilling to read and morally complex in its message, it offers a fresh, profound, and emotionally immediate perspective on what it means to be black or white in a country where both races live and feel entitlement.… (more)

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