Landing from what was then regarded as “enlightened”, free and democratic Europe and finding ourselves in the turmoil of a society caught in dramatic transition – between the end of apartheid (the 40-year long period of racial segregation imposed on the peoples of South Africa) and the first democratically elected black government. Those were the years, 1996-2000 in which my husband and I worked in South Africa as international reporters for the Italian press.
Keeping an extremely low profile, touring the country in a badly battered, second-hand Volkswagen Beetle, we tried to meet and speak to as many people as possible (farmers, writers, journalists, maids, soldiers, teachers, criminals, squatters, political activists, entrepreneurs, priests, scientists) across the whole racial and social spectrum. The question I kept asking myself while reading about the history of the country was: “What would have I become if I had been born here as a privileged white woman?” Would have I been brave enough to face the regime or would have I gone on with my life, hiding my head under the sand not to see what was happening to my darker-skinned fellow human beings?
Intellectually, it was a most humbling experience and also what drove me to write my novel the Afrikaner. Its main character, a young woman named Zoe du Plessis, is a palaeontologist of Afrikaner descent. Through Zoe’s story and the way she confronts her Afrikaner heritage and sense of “group guilt”, the book talks about South Africa as a whole — with its Black and White communities, and all that stands in between.
At its most basic level, the Afrikaner is an on-the-road adventure story set between South Africa and the hot plains of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, where Zoe has some memorable encounters with a San Bushman shaman, a Zulu Border War veteran turned Rasta, a troubled writer, and a solitary park ranger).
On a deeper level, however, The Afrikaner confronts the social, cultural and political complexities and tensions of a country with 11 tribes and 11 official languages, torn between a past rooted in violence, oppression and segregation, and a future still to be invented.
I couldn’t have found a better narrator for the audiobook version of the Afrikaner than South African, Los-Angeles based voice actor Dennis Kleinman. Dennis did a wonderful job in giving voice to all the characters in the novel, working on their multiple accents, from the Afrikaans accented English to the Queen’s English to the slang spoken in the black townships. The audiobook is available on all the major platforms, from Audible to Google Play, from Kobo to Apple Books.
You can listen to a extract here, and watch the trailer here. Links to buy the audiobook can be found here and it’s also available via Audible.
As an international reporter, translator and academic lecturer Arianna Dagnino has crossed many borders and lived in many countries across four continents. The author of books on the impact of globalization and digital technologies, Dagnino holds a PhD from the University of South Australia and currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Her transcultural novel The Afrikaner is inspired by her five-year stint in newly post-apartheid South Africa. Her book Jesus Christ Cyberstar is a short treatise on the cultural origins of the Internet as an ultra-modern, hi-tech Heaven. www.ariannadagnino.com