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The Smell of Apples by Mark Behr

The Smell of Apples

by Mark Behr

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206756,890 (3.42)13


Africa (448)

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Showing 5 of 5
Set in South Africa in the mid 1970s, and narrated by Marnus Erasmus, the eleven year old son of the well connected and politically influential Afrikaner General Erasmus and his now retired opera singer wife Leonora, the story gives real insight into how one’s background and upbringing facilitate firmly held ideals and beliefs.
The Erasmus family plays host to a Mr Smith, the alias given to a visiting undercover Chilean General who sympathises with the Afrikaners’ views. Through their interaction with Mr Smith, with their attitude toward their Coloured servants and their behaviour toward the Blacks, we get a very good impression of the Afrikaners’ proud belief in their own superiority; however shocking such views may seem today.
But the beauty of the story is in the telling through the eyes of the eleven year old Marnus. Behr convincingly conveys the activities, expressions and innocence of youth, despite the perverted indoctrinated beliefs. His friendship with is class mate Frikkie, something of a bully and problem child at school; and his spiteful relationship with his older sister Ilse are well portrayed. Particularly endearing is the relationship he enjoys with his parents and his undoubted love and respect for them; a love than can even overcome the horrifying discovery Manus makes towards the end involving his father.
Interspersed with the current narrative is an ongoing account from the twenty four year old lieutenant Manus as he serves on the war front.
A beautifully written and revealing account, Behr succeeds in presenting an appealing view of a year in a family’s life despite their horrifying attitudes and beliefs. ( )
  presto | Apr 24, 2012 |
A story of what it was like to grow up in an Afrikaner elite/military family during the 1970's in apartheid South Africa. Marnus is a young boy living in a successful, Afrikaans family in Cape Town in the height of Apartheid. His world has largely been shaped by his family, who are firm believers in the Apartheid state. Discrimination, stereotypes, ignorance and indoctrination are central themes in the story.

Interestingly, especially for a book that derides the faults of the Apartheid state, the story is not centered on the racism and violence of the era. Instead, since it is told in the perspective of a child, it focuses on the daily life of a kid in ZA. Thus, the action mostly centers on playing, going to school and playing sports. With quotes like, “[My teacher] said the Xhosa are a terrible nation and it was them that used to rob and terrorise the farmers…”, and “Dad says…the blood that was left in Africa was the blood of the dumber blacks – that’s why you won’t find an educated black anywhere.”, the story of apartheid indoctrination is only told in the subtleties of life and sounds that surround Marnus. It makes for quite an interesting read. Rarely do you see books about Apartheid from such a perspective.

Although I thought the book was interesting, original and insightful, I had only one major issue with it, which was what I deemed the unnecessary correlation with homosexuality and pedophilia. In the last twenty pages of the book, Marnus’s watches through a hole in the wall (well, actually the floor) what he later realized was his father and “General Smith”, a houseguest from Chile in a potential sexual act. Then the next night he sees his father raping his friend, Frikkie. Granted, Marnus isn’t positive it is his father with the General, nor can he be sure that there was a sexual encounter, but the author does lead you to believe that both did occur. This tie between homosexuality and male-on-male pedophilia seemed unwarranted and unnecessary. ( )
  getupkid10 | Aug 2, 2008 |
This is a coming-of-age/loss-of-innocence novel, set mostly in South Africa, 1974. Marnus is the innocent, an Afrikaner boy, living in a smug, comfortable family whose adult members seem perfectly comfortable with apartheid. At the center of the story is a visit from a Chilean military man to his father, who is a major-general in the South African Army. With this visitor’s presence exerting a somewhat ominous backdrop, Marnus goes about the business of being a kid with his best friend, Frikkie. As the story unfolds, Marnus learns about prejudice, deception, shame, and abuse.

Intercut with the main story are flashforwards to 1988, when Marnus is a soldier, fighting in the Angolan civil war. I was not at all clear why the author inserted these snippets, and I didn’t see that they explained or enlarged upon anything that was going on in the main story. But I’m happy to admit that may just be my own lack of insight.

I found the book competently written, engaging, and informative. I did get a sense of what that time and place was like; and the universal, human truth of the story comes through to this American reader as familiar biases transplanted into a foreign soil. Behr is observant, thoughtful, and not noticeably sentimental. ( )
  skippersan | Mar 26, 2008 |
10-year-old Marnus is devastated when he discovers that his Dad is abusing his best friend Frikkie. He spies his Dad sodomising Frikkie in the spare bedroom in the family home. ( )
  TonySandel | Sep 16, 2007 |
This novel covers a relatively short time-span in the last weeks of 1973, and is told by Marcus the 11 year old son of a senior South African army officer. His family are Afrikaners - very much part of the ruling elite - and totally committed to the concept of apartheid, and convinced of their own superiority over other peoples. When a visitor from abroad enters their home things begin to seem different, Marcus begins to become aware of apartheid's twisted logic, and nothing will ever be the same for him. This is a very subtle depiction of a child's introduction to hypocracy, and a piercing indictment of the Afrikaner mentality which underlined the creation of the racist state. The book won the Eugene Marais Prize from the South African Academy of Arts and Science, and it also won the CNA Literary Debut Award; both awards are well deserved. ( )
  herschelian | Feb 9, 2006 |
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Thank you, forgive me, I kiss you, oh hands
Of my neglected, my disregarded
Homeland, my diffidence, family, friends.
- - Boris Pasternak
Only one life we have in which we wanted merely to be loved forever.
- - Antjie Krog
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My name is really Marnus, but when Dad speaks to me he mostly says 'my son' or 'my little bull', and him and Mum also like calling me 'my little piccanin'.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312152094, Paperback)

It's not that Marnus Erasmus is forced to parrot his major-general father's prejudices--the 11-year-old has no idea he's even doing so. The voice Mark Behr has created is a mix of youthful innocence and hope and terrible hatred and ignorance. Unconsciously relaying tales of Communist indoctrination and Coloured abomination, the boy is all set to become another soldier of the white South African state. "Dad says he'll never forget what the Communists and the blacks did to Tanganyika. And Dad says we shouldn't ever forget. A Volk that forgets its history is like a man without a memory. That man is useless." Marnus's domestic memories, however, turn out to be far more difficult to deal with than any issues of national import. His final essay of the school year ends with the triumphant "Open eyes are the gateways to an open mind," even as his family is attempting to keep his firmly shut.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:01 -0400)

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