I couldn’t believe it when a librarian recommended me this book. I asked her specifically for some crime story set outside Europe and North America. And she gave me Heartland by Jann Turner. Whaaa? The sexual pose of mixed racial pair… and the description suggesting some cheap romance in exotic location. Ok, during the time of Mandela presidency, but still… But she recommended it. She said it was mainly about social issues with crime involved. I still remembered “social issues with crime mix” in “The Six Suspects” novel of an Indian writer, Vikas Swarup. I liked that mix so – despite differences – I decided to read “Heartland” in the end.
The librarian recommended me also books by the J. M. Coetzee. I said ‘Nah’. Both of them are from South African Republic but I was thinking that reading a woman’s opinion on apartheid would be more interesting. Ladies are usually hit by the rules, the rules that are lenient on men. Double standards always alive. So I wanted a real image of the times of apartheid and when it officially fell down. That’s why I chose a woman’s book.
Should I be so proud of myself for #readingwomen2014? After all, I chose the unknown female writer instead of the famous male writer. 😀
Hearthland by Jann Turner
Originally published: 1997
Published in Poland: 2001
Continue reading for the long post about the fake image that the cover and description gives, about the double standards and apartheid and finally… my opinion on this book. It’ll be a long post.
About the author
Jann Turner, born in 1964, is a South African film director, novelist, television director and screenwriter. She spent her childhood in the Cape until 1978 when her father, Rick Turner, a Natal University academic and anti-apartheid activist, was assassinated. She then left South Africa with her mother and finished her schooling in the UK. She studied in Oxford University (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) and then at New York University’s Graduate School of Film & TV.
About the book
After Nelson Mandela became president of SAR, Sandile comes back from the exile and decides to fight back for the land his family once lost. His childhood friend, Elise, with whom he parted ways years ago, is a daughter of one of the families who claimed their land. It would be easier if he wouldn’t be falling for her… nor charged of murdering Elise’s father.
The book is written from the point of view of Elise and Sandile.
Most of the current action is held in the Western Cape province (with its capital, Cape Town), the reminiscences takes the reader also to Zambia and United Kingdom.
About the cover & description of Polish version
Have you seen that cover above? So utterly repulsing… And it’s so misleading! There isn’t any scene of sex between Elise and Sandile in the whole book! They got just to kissing.
Elise was sleeping with her boyfriend, Daan, before they got engaged. The hot scenes of sex (or “fucking” as the characters say) were between Ina, Elise’s best friend, and “equally white” Alan Taylor. Everywhere outside the bed. 😉 Those scenes weren’t too long, after all they were secondary characters. For around 99% of the book there was no sex. Sexual tension was more visible, instead.
Now, to the description. On the back cover it’s written that they were inseparable as children to the day when Elise betrayed her. And then 20 years later, he comes back just in time for her engagement. The problem is: she “betrayed him” when she was 10 years old! She just said “it’s his fault, he dragged me there [to the mountain’s peak]” so she wouldn’t get penalised by her father for doing what she wasn’t allowed to. And even after that he still lived in the area (he was two years older, I think), and was forced to run away much later because of political reasons.
They also wrote that Sandile isn’t a poor farm worker any longer, but handsome and educated man, who wants to reclaim his land and beloved woman. Again, that’s not true either. He wanted to reclaim the land, but he wasn’t lovey-dovey with Elise before he run away. They just started that after they got to know each other again when he came back. So, he didn’t loose beloved woman because he had none there. He had one during exile, but she was killed.
The description feels like it belongs to a different book. Why it was done this way? To make it more appealing for the female readers? It was repulsing me. The description and the cover promise something that isn’t there. It’s cheating the readers! I wouldn’t likely to buy the book from a publisher that can’t be trusted. And you?
Apartheid and dual standards
The current action takes place after apartheid (racial segregation) is officially over. Officially, but not in the minds of “white” farmers in the little valley Elisa and Sandile lives. There is no more of “for whites only”, but apart from that not much has changed. The flashbacks show a bit how living during apartheid looked like in a countryside and the fights for freedom.
Double standards are not only for Afrikaners and South Africans but for men and women as well. When it comes to the race of a lover, or any other things like education or work. The action takes time in 80s and 90s, not so long time ago, but it sounds like a different world. Or something from a long forgotten past, but it’s so modern (sic!). Elise is a peculiarity at so many fields, including attending agricultural faculty, taking care of the workers and farm, but also for falling in love with a “wrong” person. She fights those double standards, because she has to.
This isn’t the best book ever, nor very good. It lacks quite a bit, is cliché at times and ends painfully obvious with a happy ending, but in the end it’s a rather good book. Far better than what the cover and description tried to make it look like. The very good thing in it is the narration from the two people’s perspectives, opposite perspectives.
My opinion: 6.5/10.
My level is: Seasoned Traveller (12 books).