Review Blog

Mar 16 2012

Stones for my father by Trilby Kent

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Alma Books, 2012. ISBN 978 1 84688 174 9.
Recommended. Having both South African Dutch and Canadian ancestry, Trilby Kent has been moved to write this neat historical novel concerning the experiences of a teenaged girl during the second Boer War of 1899-1902.
Corlie Roux is a girl who gains the reader's sympathy from the first page, as she struggles to please her domineering mother who, being recently widowed, barely maintains the family farm on the Transvall. Corlie is clearly unloved by her mother and is regarded as second class which is an interesting parallel to the treatment of the family's house servants by both the Dutch farmers and English soldiers.
Corlie has a positive outlook, an innocent world view and great love for her younger brothers, upon whom her mother dotes. Despite her mother's unreasonable and sometimes excessive treatment, the daughter admires and respects certain qualities in her character which later become important when the family is detained in what the British euphemistically refer to as 'Refugee camps'.
Some readers may be unaware that these were in effect concentration camps, with large numbers of civilians being imprisoned in impossible conditions where starvation and disease took a terrible toll on life.
The author provides a realistic and restrained account of the terrible suffering endured by those who were detained in response to the reprisal attacks carried out by Boer Commandos, being farmers who participated in guerilla warfare. Even allowing for narration through the eyes of a young Boer girl however, Kent fails to portray the position of British civilians and soldiers in the wider perspective of the conflict. I think that authors who choose to write historical fiction have some responsibility to reasonably educate their readers and this otherwise great story was slightly flawed by what appeared to be ancestral bias, to the extent that the only benevolent character representing the British Crown was cast as Canadian.
I recommend this book however, as this genre has great power to enlighten young people regarding otherwise unknown episodes from history and Kent's research and literary skill bring the location and era to life.
As book covers are extremely important in appealing to library patrons, I was intrigued by the illogical depiction of a young girl wearing modern clothing. Whilst this may depict the author's personal journey, it seemed to imply a time slip theme which is not present in the text.
Rob Welsh

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