The struggle of a female explorer, dreamer, & lover
Vancouver-based architect-cum-writer Andrei Rizea kindly provided a literary analysis
of the my novel Afrikaner under the title: "The Forbidden Letter."
“What you will read in these pages may sound meaningless to you, hardly credible. Nonetheless, it is true. It will be up to you to decide whether to deny the veracity of this confession or accept it and therefore face your destiny with mature awareness. Your fate — our fate — dictates the solitude of the heart” (Dagnino, The Afrikaner, 118).
In a timeless letter addressed to South African palaeontologist Zoe Du Plessis (the story’s protagonist) when she was just 6 years of age, the narrator pauses time for a brief moment. The author’s simple yet incredibly effective prose immerses the reader in a world of dualities, paradoxes and uncertainties. Opposing forces push against one another. The dream of an elusively harmonic life is Zoe’s fuel to scour the dry, desolate desert in search for her ‘ancestors’; a complex process which can be achieved both in a physical sense by uncovering an archeological remain and in a metaphoric sense by connecting through the numerous texts and stories she comes across.
The power of storytelling shapes Zoe’s identity as she traverses the diverse, ancient and shifting nature of South Africa’s landscape.
Bushmen rely on this impactful tool to ensure the survival of their culture and stories, whereas Zoe’s journey of self-discovery depends on the narration of the past to shape her current self and carve the path towards a more faithful future. When her mother discovers Aunt Charlotte’s will and diary, Zoe attempts to hide them and distract her with material truths. Dagnino cleverly hints at Zoe’s understanding of the true treasure within the will, where she states how “they [Zoe’s mother and grand-mother] touched those precious objects in wonder, but also with apprehension…[Zoe] didn’t dare touch Charlotte’s diary until late into the night, to be sure everyone was asleep” (117). This juxtaposition between the material and immaterial depicts Zoe’s growing appreciation of how language, and more specifically storytelling, can be a formidable tool for discovering many intangible treasures more valuable than mere tangible ingots.
In Aunt Charlotte’s letter to Zoe, specific terms such as destiny, fate and life are repeated throughout, persistently drawing the reader’s attention to an overlying tone of existentialism and spirituality. Identity becomes another emerging theme elegantly revealed in the passage as Zoe’s destiny, although unable to cross paths with her aunt’s fate in a direct means, becomes inevitably linked to her through their shared family name. The past is a paradoxical entity within The Afrikaner that simultaneously may trap or free oneself depending on the interpretation and ‘usage’ of its recipient. Zoe is encouraged to “find [her] way by studying, discovering [her] artistic talents, caring for others, doing business…. or, say, by dedicating [herself] to a mission or hobby” (Dagnino 118). The message is clear: Zoe must contradictorily ‘detach’ from yet embrace her family name and past in order to re-invent herself through a blank page, utilizing her family heritage not as a constraint or a burden, but as a tool to start over, allowing her to break free even from the sense of guilt for the death of her colleague and lover.
The Afrikaner is an authentic journey across bold landscapes where time, the meaning of life, and the fragile yet complex nature of the human spirit capture the reader’s inner-self. Stories of love, conflict and discovery are inextricably woven together like a braided basket of layered realties and truths. Dagnino’s pure and intentional speech truthfully portrays the struggle of a female explorer, dreamer, archaeologist, and lover of life as she battles with the uncertainties of time and the potency of language through an artistry of storytelling. (Andrei Rizea, "The Forbidden Letter")
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