This isn’t a review. It’s more of a PSA for anyone put off reading this outstanding book because so many of its (fantastic) reviews contain words like brutal, rape, beatings, abuse, cruelty, murders, atrocities.
I was dead keen to learn about the indenture system on the KwaZula-Natal sugar plantations in South Africa back in the late 19th century but couldn’t stomach a harrowing read.
Despite my reservations, I did eventually buy the book but struggled to enjoy it because I spent most of the read steeling myself against what awful event might appear in the next paragraph, page or chapter. Not fun.
So, this is to tell you that, yes, there are terrible things that happen but the author describes them with such respect and care that she softens the horror without in any way losing the gravity of what took place.
Here’s an example. In describing a particularly awful rape, the author replaces visceral detail with a metaphor that turns the rapist into a predatory serpent. It’s no less dreadful but somehow the author manages to save the reader from the sick-in-the-gut feeling caused by descriptions of violence in a book.
I’m thrilled I read it but hell I wish someone had told me I didn’t have to be terrified of graphic violence so I could relax and take pleasure in the fantastic writing.