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The Expedition to the Baobab Treeby Wilma Stockenstrom
Synopses & Reviews
Learning to survive in the harsh interior of Southern Africa, a former slave seeks shelter in the hollow of a baobab tree. For the first time since she was a young girl her time is her own, her body is her own, her thoughts are her own. In solitude, she is finally able to reflect on her own existence and its meaning, bringing her a semblance of inner peace. Scenes from her former life shuttle through her mind: how owner after owner assaulted her, and how each of her babies were taken away as soon as they were weaned, their futures left to her imagination. We are the sole witnesses to her history: her capture as a child, her tortured days in a harbor city on the eastern coast as a servant, her journey with her last owner and protector, her flight, and the kaleidoscopic world of her baobab tree. Wilma Stockenström's profound work of narrative fiction, translated by Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee, is a rare, haunting exploration of enslavement and freedom.
"First published in the U.S. in 1983, before translator Coetzee became a Nobel laureate and South African author StockenstrÃ¶m won prizes for fiction and poetry, this mini-masterpiece is less a novel than an intimate monologue illuminating the nature of slavery, oppression, womanhood, identity, Africa, and nature itself. The narrative begins in a hollow of the titular baobab tree, where an unnamed female slave has taken refuge. Between forays to a nearby stream, she recalls her past, stringing together memories like the beads left by natives, who think that she's a tree spirit. She remembers being captured by slave traders who sell her to a wealthy man with a taste for innocent girls. After giving birth, she is separated from her baby and sold to a spice merchant. Her third owner is the merchant's youngest son, for whom she entertains guests and manages his household. When he dies, she begs a friend of her owner's brother (the merchant's eldest son) to purchase her, and then joins her new owner and the merchant's son on their ill-fated expedition into the interior. Using image-rich and poetic language, the illiterate narrator vividly evokes enslavement, isolation, and longing. She never uses specific names, locations, or dates. She has little sense of time. All the slave possesses is a sense of self, despite the confines of her life, which StockenstrÃ¶m portrays with such a winning combination of art and artlessness that, 25 years after its introduction to English-speaking audiences, this tale still proves moving and vibrant. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A stunning translation by Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee of a masterful work of fiction by one of the greatest living writers in Afrikaans.
About the Author
Wilma Stockenström is one of the most important authors writing in Afrikaans. She has published 5 novels, 7 collections of poems, and one play. She received the Hertzog Prize for Poetry in 1977 and again in 1992. She was awarded Italy's Grinzane Cavour Prize in 1988 for The Expedition to the Baobab Tree. She has also had a successful career as an actress on stage and in film. She has been living in Cape Town since 1993. The author lives in Rapier, South Africa.
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