PRAISE FOR THE AFRIKANER. A NOVEL

(Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019)

 

“After Zoe enters the Karoo, I had to keep reading […] Set in a South Africa trying to adjust to the recent end of apartheid, The Afrikaner is the compelling story of a fossil-hunter haunted by her family curse. Wise in the ways of paleoanthropology, viticulture, history, and the complex choreography of Boer, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Bushmen, and others, Arianna Dagnino’s novel fulfills its protagonist’s vision of art: ‘Imagination in motion’” – Steven G. Kellman, University of Texas at San Antonio

“Marvelous. Arianna Dagnino takes the reader into some very diverse regions of South Africa and Namibia, and much deeper into their history (the protagonist is a paleaontologist seeking and finding evidence of the earliest human settlements, possibly the earliest in the world, hundreds of thousands years ago). Most importantly, she takes us just below the social surface to glimpse the raging contradictions exploding in a country that, until just recently, had kept them sealed tight under the Afrikaners’ state-supported myth of themselves as a single, homogenous people.” – Jeffrey Fox, “Sequels of Apartheid” – Geoffrey Fox-Reflections and Enquiries,  26 July 2019. 

“The Afrikaner is a fascinating exploration of identity – from one person finding a place in the world after tragedy, to larger cultural groups finding a new way to co-exist in a changing world.” – Julia Bryan, The Girly Bookclub, August 2019)

“Dagnino’s strange and beautiful writing provides the reader a safe space to negotiate their own way through the fraught, painful and fractured totality of the post-colonial experience toward a new understanding of literal and metaphorical spaces and places.” (Hollay Ghadery, “Moving Forward, Standing Still: The Hubris of Public and Personal History in The Afrikaner by Arianna Dagnino.” –  River Street Writing, Sept. 2019).

Arianna Dagnino brings the Kalahari Desert and the native Bushmen alive in a vivid narrative. Readers will be fascinated by the Bushmen’s spiritual lifestyle and how it touches Zoe in her quest to fight her demons.” – Stefan Vucak, Stefan Vucak’s Reviews, September 2019.

“Arianna Dagnino’s The Afrikaner (2019, Guernica Editions)* does much to inform the uninformed reader such as myself as to the changes brought about with the abolishing of apartheid as well as the collective guilt felt by so many white South Africans over the past enslavement, subjugation and displacement of its Indigenous peoples […] The Afrikaneris a superb book. I enjoyed it very much and it is a satisfying literary read. Highly recommended for those looking for a good story in a setting outside of the Western world.” – Naomi, Consumed By Ink, 3 July 2019

“‘The past always resurfaces,’ and ‘change has its own dynamics.’ So the protagonist is told in the gripping new novel by Ariana Dagnino […] The challenge for each “poor human being biting into the thorns of existence” is to face up to the past, and then make the present better. The fact that South Africans are by no means alone in needing to do so makes this topic novel thematically universal as well.” – Carol Tulpar, Essay-eh, 4 July 2019.

“I have never understood the lure of Africa; at the end of this novel, I did. […] the landscape descriptions are exquisite and closely observed. At the end, I felt I had been there, in these intense, parched African places, tasted the food, smelled the wind and the sea.” – Monika Ullmann, Professional writer, editor, and reviewer on Goodreads.

“Art must be cathartic, original and memorable […] North Americans have gleaned a deeper awareness of South Africa through Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, Sir Laurens Jan van der Post, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. We’ve also seen Invictus or A Dry White Season or Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom about Stephen Biko, the man that Nelson Mandela described as “the spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa. The Afrikaner deserves its place in that pantheon” – Alan Twigg, BC Booklook

"Arianna Dagnino’s transcultural novel of a young woman’s struggle to recover from the brutal killing of her lover, cope with her family’s tragic past and find her way in post-Apartheid South Africa, is both moving and memorable. Dagnino, drawing on her years as a journalist in South Africa, de-layers the country’s conflicts, introduces some remarkable characters and takes the reader on a spellbinding journey”  – Ian Thomas Shaw, author of Quill of the Dove

“Arianna Dagnino has written an engaging story about one woman’s search for answers in her own life, both personal and professional. The author uses a realistic style and creates very believable characters whom we enjoy meeting. She finds poetry in the arid beauty of the Kalahari Desert and helps us to get to know remote landscapes” – Joseph Pivato,Athabasca University, Canada

Set in the South Africa of thirty years ago, this is novel that spins a good tale while deftly exploring origins – personal, professional, and political – of the emerging South rainbow nation. The privileged protagonist, of French Protestant extraction, cast adrift by the death of her palaeontologist colleague and lover, sifts the sands of the Kalahari for further evidence to support his unfashionable hypothesis that human beings first evolved in the Cape. Her own identity is reshaped by rereading a diary from the end of the nineteenth century, left by her aunt, and also by meaningful encounters with a charismatic and aged Bushman and a modern celebrity author. The text maps some of the eminent geographical and cultural domains that have constituted modern South Africa and thoughtfully sharpens our awareness of the mingled yarns that create individual identities. — Yes, I was privileged to be allowed to read it early and enjoyed it.  Much impressed, too” – Michael Hattaway, New York University in London

“As an ex-South African, I was immediately drawn into the African way of life and explored the bush which was handled with sensitivity and poise. An exquisitely written book which deserves to be read” – Renee G., Reviewer at NetGalley

“Arianna Dagnino’s The Afrikaner is a multi-faceted book. First and foremost, it is a compelling narrative about the life and the psychology of a strong, intelligent, introspective woman in agony (her fiancé was shot dead), and the diverse people she deals with. At the same time, it is a realistic report on the current way of life of some of our fellow terrestrials, who are heading toward the future with us, but not first class: Xhosa, Bantu, Ovambos, Afrikaners of old Dutch lineage. The third theme is atonement. The protagonist’s family – and herself – have lived for centuries under a curse, a punishment for a violent behaviour. Likewise, the peoples of South Africa are forced, in that year (1996) right after the end of Apartheid, to come to terms with their participation in the moral, natural, legal crimes and misdemeanors it entailed. Hence the need of and wish for atonement. Arianna Dagnino’s English prose is precise and brilliant; and the punctuation – this humble dictionary of pauses – is as professional and fluid as to leave the reader relaxed. From time to time I felt compelled to stop and read a second time some beautifully carved sentences. In short, I dare to say that The Afrikaner is the first important gift the New Year brings to literary culture” – Giannalberto Bendazzi, author of "Animation: A World History"

“Dagnino’s distinctive writing portrays a believable and realistic character, Zoe du Plessis, whom we accompany on an inner journey; a quest into her past and her pursuit of palaeontological discovery. A wonderful and intriguing novel.” – Saskia Waters, University of Technology Sydney

“A clever, fresh and widely resonating novel whose international, globalizing streak rescues us from stale and overly provincial atmospheres.” – Carlo Testa, The University of British Columbia

“Arianna Dagnino’s transcultural novel transports the reader into the complex and potentially dangerous world of its protagonist within sensually rich descriptions of southern Africa. Dagnino’s experiential immersion in her topic is obvious in the detailed and nuanced familiarity she evokes with the various cultural groups that form the basis of her characters. Rarely does one encounter a novelist who can articulate so deftly the multiple perspectives that are at the heart of the changing sociological landscape of a place such as postcolonial South Africa. As one whose forebears were among the first Cape colonists, I found Dagnino’s The Afrikaner to be eerily compelling.” – Kathryn Pentecost (van der Poel family), author of A Conversation with Harold Pinter  

“This is a superb novel, immense in its range and subject. Brave in its use of the science of palaeontology to be a simile for the more recent political struggle in South Africa, its people and tribes that live in that culture and inhabit the land. Zoe Du Plessis is the product of the white heritage in South Africa, able to trace her ancestry back over 300 years. But the political reality now has a new regime in power; post-apartheid is a time when many Afrikaner people are re-evaluating their futures. She is a recognised professor looking for evidence of the first humans that walked this planet. The cradle of civilisation is believed to be East Africa and her research department is looking for fossil evidence to support the emergence of hominids and human society further south. The changes the book explores have to do with political, scientific and personal relationships. In Zoe’s case, her life is devastated and brought into historical context by the death of her lover and colleague, Dario Oldani.

It is always a sumptuous read: the author’s words expand the panorama of the vast hinterland of the veld and desert areas. You feel a sense of place, with its smells and sounds, and you see to distant horizons and understand those who have gone before. This writing is infused by the open spaces as much as by the menace of downtown city roads and the fragrant coastal air.
I loved the why characters adjust to grief and loss no more so than Zoe, but the fun runs through several individuals we meet.
The voice of the indigenous people, their simplicity, their oral traditions and the threat to their way of life and future is also introduced. Their ways of coping and embracement of an uncertain future is humbling and also a passed-over concern – it seems like it has always been this way.
This is a book that talks about time: quantified by generations, scientific knowledge, imprisonment and opportunity. Zoe’s life is on hold. Buried like the elusive fossils she searches for and seemingly time-locked by superstition and by the shadows cast by her family’s genealogy.
How this is worked out makes this such a compelling read. In the process, the dark past of Africa is shared on a canvas with the colours, traditions and culture of a fascinating geographical place.
I was moved by the sense of borders, the symbol of footprints and the question to the writer in the novel here who Zoe says can manipulate time.
It is a piece of literature that seems never ending in its focus, exploring issues that begin with an African Eve but offering in its conclusion that things can change, choices embraced and new relationships made. The ending is just wonderful and fitting, meaning the book will never leave me.” – Richard Letham at Goodreads.

“This book was truly beautiful, lyrical, and compelling, and this is a story brimming with character and place. Arianna Dagnino writes in a way that is attractive and hard to dismiss. The Afrikaner is quite a reading experience, and one I would gladly recommend to others.” – Reviewer 512434 at NetGalley)

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