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Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo

Dancing the Death Drill

by Fred Khumalo

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I received a free advance e-copy of this book and have chosen to write an honest and unbiased review. I have no personal affiliation with the author. This is an extremely well written piece of South African historical fiction with an amazing plot and excellent character development. It is obvious that Fred Khumalo did a great deal of research before writing this novel. I had heard of the sinking of the SS Mendi when I was in South Africa in 2006 and had researched it further at that time. The facts about the sinking of the SS Mendi are accurate and the author also provides us with accurate facts about life in South Africa before WW I under colonialism and later under apartheid. The Reverend’s speech to the men of the sinking ship as he led them in the barefoot dance called the death drill is as I was told and is recorded in several references. This is the imagined story of a well-educated survivor of the sinking ship who is of mixed race, neither black nor white. His father was Dutch and his mother was Mosotho. He can speak Afrikaners, English, and French as well as the language of the Mosotho and other African languages. This is a tragic story full of discrimination and abuse. His treatment was at times horrendous but he always prevailed. He changed his identity and his name. This is an amazing story that everyone should read. I look forward to reading more from Fred Khumalo. ( )
  iadam | Jan 6, 2018 |
This novel is set around a real life tragedy, the sinking of a British troop ship transporting African workers to the front in France. Notoriously the captain who crashed into the troop ship failed to act to rescue those in the water, leading to hundreds of deaths as many men couldn't swim.

The author's account of the night of the sinking, the men's experiences on the ship and working behind the lines (none if the black recruits from South Africa were permitted to bear arms) were compellingly told. Although this is a fascinating piece of history, and I admire the author for writing about it, the book itself didn't work for me. I found there was quite a lot of telling rather than experiencing the history with the characters, in places seeming to want to get as many of the historical detail in, in others to try and move the story along. As some parts were gripping, I'll have a look for his other work and see if it was just the subject that was the problem.

"... that the collision and consequent loss of life, loss of the SS Mendi and material damage to SS Darro, were caused by the wrongful act and default of Mr Henry Winchester Stump, the master of SS Darro, in not complying with articles 15 and 16 of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, as to sound signals and speed in a fog, and by his more serious default in failing, without any reasonable cause, to send away a boat or boats to ascertain the extent of the damage to the Mendi, and to render to her, her master, crew and passengers, such assistance as was practicable and necessary, as required by section 422 (1) (a) of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. The Court suspends his certificate, No. 017169, for 12 months from the date hereof. Dated this 8th day August, 1917.

When Pitso read the last words, a hush fell over his audience. Summer birds called from their perches, a light breeze blew from the sea in Dieppe. Then a siren sounded, and the men got up slowly from their haunches." ( )
  charl08 | Apr 16, 2017 |
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