After her boyfriend and colleague is killed at night in downtown Johannesburg, Professor Zoe Du Plessis, a South African paleontologist, is left devastated. Reading her aunt’s diary, she learns of a family curse that follows every first-born female due to a terrible deed done by one of her ancestors, and she seems to have inherited it. Zoe decides to continue research for traces of early humans in Namibia started by her dead colleague. She hires a Zulu driver and they head off for the Kalahari.
She finds some human skull fragments, but nothing in the following six months. Taking a break, she returns to Cape Town to meet her brother. On her return to the dig, they keep searching for another five months and find nothing. Zoe decides to search at a new location. Still bothered by the old family curse, she participates in a Bushman ceremony, hoping for release, but the dark shadow is still with her. Will she ever dare love a man again, only to see him dead? After two months of fruitless exploration, Zoe and her team concentrate their work on a cave. They find a flint tool and everyone is excited. A spiritual excursion into the Kalahari leaves her wondering if the curse had left her. Work on the dig continues, as does her search for inner peace.
With The Afrikaner, Arianna Dagnino reveals to readers a troubled South Africa where despite the end apartheid, racial discrimination is still practiced; the only difference is that now it works against the whites. Zoe Du Plessis is proud of her Boer heritage and considers South Africa her home, which motivates her professional endeavors to prove that mankind originated south of the Zambezi. The curse has followed the first-born female of her family for 300 years, and Zoe has had a personal taste of its effects.
Some readers will find the diary flashbacks somewhat daunting, but they provide necessary background into Zoe’s family history, and to an extent, it explains her own behavior. Arianna Dagnino brings Kalahari desert and the native Bushmen alive in vivid narrative. Readers will be fascinated by the Bushmen’s spiritual lifestyle and how it touches Zoe in her quest to fight her demons. Descriptions of her work in the desert are somewhat sketchy, and a more detailed insight into the workings of an anthropological dig would have been appreciated. The ending is a little unsatisfying, leaving several unanswered questions, but The Afrikaner is an enchanting, superbly written novel that will keep readers wanting more. A very worthwhile read.
This book is available on Amazon.
About the Author
I am the author of The Afrikaner (Guernica, April 2019), a novel inspired by the five years I spent in the southern African region as an international reporter. The Afrikaner is an on-the-road adventure story that covers the terrains of love, race, science and historical guilt under the African sky.
In the last 25 years, I have built a diversified cultural and professional experience across many borders and five continents. I still have to do my stint in Antarctica, though! In everyday life, I am an academic lecturer, independent writer and literary translator. On a day-to-day basis, I change hats frequently. I published several books in English and Italian, on the positive and negative impact of globalization and digital technologies. I am a proud citizen of Australia and Canada.