Book Review; The Afrikaner by Arianna Dagnino
I love reading stories that take place in South Africa. Some people might not get that. After all, if reading is a means of escape, then surely you would want to escape to distant shores and imaginary places? Yes. I enjoy those kinds of stories too. But I love reading books where the characters are my people. South African people who live in or travel to places I’ve been, or places I can include on my next road-trip. South African people who, in their make-believe world, see the koppies and kranses I have seen, who smell the oceans and foliage I have smelled, who speak in colloquialisms I recognise, and who savour the food I eat.
When Arianna contacted me on LinkedIn and asked me if I would like to review her book she said, “As you can imagine, I’m particularly interested in receiving feedback from South African readers.”
I was so excited! I found it difficult to maintain professional composure. I didn’t know much about Arianna, but what I knew left me a li’l star struck.
Eager to please, I responded with, “I appreciate the opportunity; look forward to reading your book which takes place in my beloved country; and will definitely provide you with honest feedback and comments. I am not a fast reader and my days are rather crammed, but I will put in a concerted effort to get back to you with a review as soon as possible.”
According to the date and time on the LinkedIn messenger app, I responded on the 20th of March at 7:35pm (that was the Friday our lockdown started, just by the way). At 9:13 the same evening I sent the following message, “I started reading the Glossary and the next moment I was already on page 37 of the book. Wow Arianna, this is beautifully and passionately written. I love your descriptions of places I have seen – it’s not often that this happens in a novel as I have not travelled outside of South Africa. Your characters are so real – Zoe’s pain is so raw. I’m loving it already.”
Thanks to the lockdown and the dismal weather that weekend I finished the book. Truth be told, had the weather been great I would probably still have finished the book.
I added post-it notes to the PDF manuscript with comments whenever I couldn’t contain myself. My battle to maintain my professional composure lost to my need to express how much I was enjoying the book. I realise that’s probably what Arianna wanted anyway – real feedback from a real South African.
For someone who loves reading South African stories The Afrikaner didn’t disappoint – I felt at home. I read about places I have visited and the descriptions matched my memories. I read about people and recognised myself, my family, my neighbours. I read colloquialisms that I have used and heard – South Africanisms that I know how to pronounce and use in context.
Some of the significance of this book will be lost on those who don’t know South Africa and her people and that’s a bit sad, but it’s also incredible to think that a book written by an Italian woman who lives in Canada (one who only briefly lived in South Africa) can encapsulate this country in such a way that anyone who reads it will be introduced to a country like none other on Earth.
Regaining some of my professional composure and mustering all my writing prowess I penned and submitted my review of The Afrikaner for Arianna Dagnino to use if she found it useful. In typical Toni-style I misspelled her name – I am the editor who, in my time to shine, needed an editor. Arianna graciously pointed out my mistake. Once I fixed the transposition of the letters in her surname she kindly published my review.
“The Afrikaner stirred a number of emotions in me; pride in the beauty of the landscapes and places of South Africa, my beloved country, incredibly described by Arianna Dagnino; the pain of loss, new and old; shame and frustration triggered by the recount of history and the fact that, so many years later, we, as a nation, are still struggling to break free; disheartened that the potential of Africa is lost due to this continent’s people’s short-sightedness and the world’s indifference; and, hope that even the most dire circumstances can be healed. Arianna’s characters are genuine; their emotions are raw; their lives are real. Having read the book I can hardly believe that the author is not South African. To read The Afrikaner is to find The Rainbow Nation exposed.”