Synopses & Reviews
Ten years after leaving South Africa, the country of her birth and the place where her mother died, Eva van Rensburg returns to her dying father, a violent man whose terrible secret Eva has kept since she was a child.
In this beautiful first novel, Lisa Fugard paints a haunting portrait of a family careering toward disaster. She vividly describes the isolation of Eva's rebellious and lonely English mother; the desperation of her Afrikaner father as drought destroys his farm; the conflicts among the black farmworkers as the younger generation questions the loyalty and subservience of their elders; and the dangerous silence of a young girl who witnesses too much.
Like Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee, Fugard has written a profoundly moving family drama, subtly set against the backdrop of a country in turmoil. She moves with extraordinary agility between intimate and revelatory domestic scenes and the fiercely challenging land. This is a powerful story from a stunning new writer.
"A vivid sense of place and an effective dramatic arc distinguish this debut novel from the daughter of South African playwright Athol Fugard. After a 10-year absence which saw the upheaval of her native country 28-year-old Eva van Rensburg returns to Johannesburg from the U.S. to tend to her estranged, dying Afrikaner father, Martin. Springboarding off Eva's discovery of her deceased mother Lorraine's diaries, Fugard seamlessly flashes back to explore Eva's childhood on Skinner's Drift, the farm where she grew up. The characters and landscape come sharply to life: Lorraine's dissatisfaction, Martin's struggles to keep the farm afloat, the increased tensions as soldiers arrive and barricades are erected along the border with Botswana. At the heart of the story is young Eva and her relations with the black farmworkers. As Martin's violent tendencies intensify and Lorraine becomes increasingly unstable, the family fractures and Eva bears the brunt of Martin's actions culminating in two horrifying, violent acts. When the adult Eva finally returns to the farm, she must determine how to finally face her father's terrible secret. Playing out this family drama in the broader context of race and class, Fugard captivates with this searing personal portrayal of the legacy of apartheid." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Set against the vivid landscape and wildlife of the African landscape, this first novel conveys a message of redemption and forgiveness that holds true whether it's concerning a country and its people or a father and his daughter." Library Journal
"Fugard's plot is gripping and her prose is effortless, but what is most impressive is her ability to effectively explore broad themes through a family story. A dazzling debut." Kirkus Reviews
"Fugard succeeds brilliantly....Worthy of Tolstoy." The New York Times Book Review
"Fugard's narrative of apartheid politics and family tragedy could not be more engrossing." Entertainment Weekly
Returning to her South African home to attend the death of her violent father, Eva van Rensburg is forced to confront a terrible childhood secret, in a tale set against a backdrop of the region's troubled history that depicts bush life on a drought-stricken farm. A first novel. Reader's Guide included. Reprint. 30,000 first printing.
Ten years after leaving South Africa, Eva van Rensburg returns to her dying father, a violent stuttering man whose terrible secret Eva has kept since she was a child, and to Skinner's Drift, the family farm, a tough stretch of land on the Limpopo River where jackals and leopards still roam.
In this beautiful, brave, and extraordinarily moving first novel, Lisa Fugard paints a haunting portrait of a young woman coming to terms with her family's violent past as her homeland, South Africa, confronts its own bloody history. Fugard moves with extraordinary agility between intimate and revelatory domestic scenes and the fiercely challenging land, "like the ravaged hide of some ancient beast." This is a powerful story from a stunning new writer.
About the Author
Lisa Fugard was born in South Africa, the daughter of acclaimed playwright Athol Fugard. She came to the United States in 1980 to pursue her acting career. She has written many articles for The New York Times travel section and this is her first novel. She lives in the desert of Southern California.
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard
- It has been ten years since Eva left South Africa when she returns to see her dying father. She still holds a great deal of ill will toward her country and her family. What do you think Eva is expecting to find upon her return? What does she actually discover about her country and herself?
- How do you think growing up on Skinner's Drift affected Eva physically, mentally and emotionally? What links can you make between her behavior in the present and the incidents of her past?
- If you are familiar with South Africa's history, particularly regarding race relations and the events of the 1980s that form the backdrop of Skinner's Drift, discuss how the novel foreshadows what is to come in South Africa and reflects the way things used to be.
- There are two three-person families in this novel: Martin, Lorraine and Eva and Lefu, Nkele and Mpho. Discuss the parallels between the families. How does each family's structure affect its individual members? How do the family members support one another? How do they harm one another? What are some key differences between the families?
- At Eva's request Lefu helps her to bury the bodies of the animals that Martin has killed. Was Eva right to ask Lefu to help her? Was Lefu right in agreeing to help her, knowing that it might cost him his job?
- How does the novel's structure -- sections jump back and forth in time and are interspersed with Lorraine's journal entries -- strengthen the story? The points of view of many characters are represented in the different sections. Why do you think there is so little of Martin's point of view?
- When Lorraine and Neels are on their nature walk she tells him the story of how her farm came to be called Skinner's Drift. What is significant about this story in relation to the rest of the novel? What does the story symbolize? Does it underscore any prevalent themes in the novel?
- When Lefu discovers the young boy's skeleton buried at the farm, Eva threatens to tell Martin that Lefu stole Martin's horse. Why does Eva want to protect her father? Is her desire to protect him still understandable ten years later?
- Roses are a recurring motif in this novel. Discuss the significance of roses in relation to various characters. Why does Lorraine give her rose garden to Lefu? Why do the roses upset Nkele? Why does Lorraine insist on taking Katinka to see the roses?
- What do you think of Katinka? How does her role as an outsider in the community give her a unique view of her neighbors and acquaintances? What does she represent to the community? To the novel?
- After meeting the stranger in the woods Nkele begins to worry about Mpho's future and decides that "her only hope [is] the man in the donga." What does she mean? After the stranger asks Nkele for a rose she stops visiting him in the woods. Why does she end their relationship if he is her only hope? What else might this stranger represent?
- Martin's behavior is harmful to many people. He's an alcoholic, an adulterer, and a killer, yet his family, friends and servants remain remarkably loyal to him. What does their loyalty say about his society, his family and his character? Discuss the theme of loyalty as it relates to other characters in the novel, such as Eva and Lefu, Jannie and Katinka, and Lefu and Mpho.
- Do you think that anyone in particular is responsible for Lorraine's death? Her husband? Jannie and Dolf? Lorraine herself? Was her death simply an accident or was it a preventable tragedy?
- What do you think about Eva's attitude toward Mpho when she finds the diary containing his promise to avenge the boy's death? How have the events of Mpho's childhood transformed him?
- Eva suddenly changes her plans at the end of the novel and decides to prolong her stay in South Africa. Why has she decided to stay? Do you think that she has forgiven her father? Has she forgiven her country? How is her ambivalence about her parents linked to her ambivalence about her country?
Enhance Your Book Club:
- Host a screening of films about South Africa. Some critics' picks include Tsotsi, the 2005 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film, Cry, The Beloved Country, Sarafina!, and the recent In My Country, which takes place during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.
- Learn more about South Africa at http://www.africa.com/dmap/South+Africa/Overview. Look at the maps and pictures of the Limpopo Valley, where Eva's family's farm was, here or on other websites. Is this how you imagined the region when reading the book? What parts of South Africa are most vivid to you from Fugard's descriptions?
- Recreate Johanna's pumpkin fritters using the recipe from this link: http://www.recipezaar.com/122266. Look up other recipes for traditional South African dishes and plan a dinner party for your book club.
- Visit the authors website www.lisafugard.com and read the travel articles she wrote for the New York Times, including an essay about her time on the banks of the Limpopo.