Chain of Fire

Chain of Fire

by Beverley Naidoo

The South African government is forcing Naledi an the other villagers to move to a new location: a "homeland" of iron huts and barren soil. And it seems that no one is willing to resist.

No one, that is, except Naledi's friend Taolo, whose family has often spoken out against apartheid. Taolo gives Naledi the strength to fight, and with his help, she and her

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The South African government is forcing Naledi an the other villagers to move to a new location: a "homeland" of iron huts and barren soil. And it seems that no one is willing to resist.

No one, that is, except Naledi's friend Taolo, whose family has often spoken out against apartheid. Taolo gives Naledi the strength to fight, and with his help, she and her schoolmates organize an anti-removal march through the village. But the right of free expression is not a liberty granted to the young protesters, and the police instigate a reign of terror on the villagers. Naledi and Taolo's chain of fiery resistance cannot be broken, though. With each new crisis, it grows ever stronger and burns ever brighter.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This gripping novel of a black town's resistance to the white South African government's plan to forcibly remove them to their ``homeland'' hundreds of kilometers away blazes with rage. Naidoo focuses on Naledi, a teenage girl, and her growing awareness of the depth of the hatred that has created the apartheid system. As Naledi and the other townspeople become more deeply involved in the resistance, casual cruelties, gross indignities, brutal atrocities and, perhaps most horrifying of all, betrayals from within mount. Chain of Fire is not easy reading, nor should it be; it tackles tough issues head-on and presents them with superb dramatic tension. Readers will fear for Naledi and her friends, cheer them on, weep with them and, when their tale is done, have a deeper appreciation for how precious freedom is. Illustrations not seen by PW. Ages 11-up. (Apr.)
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-- Naledi and Tiro, the children in Naidoo's Journey to Jo'Burg (Harper, 1986), return in a longer tale that stands on its own but is enhanced by the reading of its predecessor. The story begins with the sudden announcement that the people of Naledi's village are to be removed to ``the homeland'' in four weeks' time. With every reason to believe few will survive the removal, the villagers choose to resist, their determination fired by the righteous indignation of their young. Naledi, her friend Taolo, and three others are elected student representatives in the resistance, and together they organize a peaceful student march as a demonstration of unity and strength. But the police anticipate their plan, and the march ends in violence. Events accelerate. Homes are bulldozed, families are separated, and Taolo's father is murdered. The removal is accomplished and, for the moment, it seems the white government has won. But Naledi and her neighbors are no longer the same villagers who once clung passively to subsistence. They are becoming a unified people, with a recognizable enemy and no end of heroes alive and dead around whom to rally--and the beginnings of a political mechanism through which to do so. As Naledi and the others have matured, politically, since the first book, so Naidoo has matured markedly as a writer. She demonstrates an insight into her characters and their condition--particularly the role of the young in initiating and sustaining rebellion that was far less evident in Journey. . . Chain of Fire flows effortlessly, with power and grace, as it succeeds in making a foreign culture immediate and real. Truly it is the grimmer tale, but one that, in light of its own truth as well as of recent events, readers might look at with a trace more hope. --Marcia Hupp, Mamaroneck Public Library, NY

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Product Details

Publication date:
Longman Literature Ser.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Come over here, Ausi Naledi! Look here!"

Tiro stared at the number 1427 scrawled boldly in fresh white paint across the door of their house. He was on his way out to the village tap to collect the morning's water. Drips of paint were still settling down cracks in the old wood. Lightly he touched the "4" and white paint stuck to his finger. His nose wrinkled with suspicion as he turned to Naledi, his fifteen-year-old sister. Even in the dimness of the house, fear showed in her dark eyes.

"Who did it, Ausi Naledi? We didn't hear anything!"

Naledi shook her head, silent.

Wriggling between them, their little sister Dineo stretched and jumped to the full height of her four years, trying to touch the paint.

"No, Dineo! It's still wet!"

Pulling the child gently away from the door, Naledi held her small hand as they ran out to the low mud wall surrounding their yard.

"That's the one!"

Tiro's eyes shifted up the dusty track of the village road. In the distance, coming into view from behind a house with a tin roof, was a man in yellow overalls carrying a tin and brush. A group of people was gathering. The man seemed to be backing away. Still holding Dineo's hand, Naledi began to jog up the track. Tiro, eleven years old and agile, soon sprinted ahead. With thin, strong legs below frayed khaki shorts he ran effortlessly. Large white numbers glared out from the doors of the other houses they passed. As they got closer, they could hear their neighbor Mma Tshadi's voice rising above the rest. Her large arms seemed to be sweeping the man backward.

"Don't you touch my house! Don't you step on my path!"

"Intshwarele Mma... excuse me.... It's not my wish. It's the government's wish. The government baas says I must put the numbers on all the houses here."

He pulled out some paper from his pocket, but quickly stuffed it back as Mma Tshadi thrust out her hand to take it. At that moment the sound of an engine caused everyone to turn. A blue car edged slowly forward from behind the small thatched-and-stone church building farther up the road. Two white men, both in pale-colored suits and ties, climbed out.

"What's the trouble, then?" asked one of them with a briefcase under his arm. He spoke in English.

"This lady ... she doesn't want me to put the number on her door, baas."

The man in the yellow overalls seemed to stand a little taller, now that his "boss" was with him. He even spoke in English now, not in Tswana. Slowly surveying the group, the man opened his briefcase and pulled out some papers.

"Don't you people know you have to move from here? The trucks are already booked to come for you in four weeks' time now. So that's why you must have numbers on your houses. Then the whole thing can be done in a proper, orderly way and there won't be any upsets."

There was a stunned hush. Mma Tshadi was the first to speak.

"What do you mean 'move from here'? These are our homes. We live here. What do you mean 'trucks are coming'?"

Naledi's heart beat fast. This white man must be from "Affairs," from the Government, but Mma Tshadi wasn't frightened to talk up to him, speaking his language with a heavy Tswana accent.

Younger than their grandmother Nono, she was a large woman with thick square shoulders and with a voice that had always been loud. The man from "Affairs" now looked directly at Mma Tshadi.

"Do you pay rent to Chief Sekete?"

Mma Tshadi nodded very slightly. Underneath the floral scarf tied at the back, her face was taut, sharply chiseled like stone.

"So you're a tenant.... Well, if you don't know about the move, that's not our fault. The landowners here, Chief Sekete and his family, were informed long ago and we've had no complaints. In fact, your chief has seen the place where you're going. I even heard him say that it's better than here. So you must ask him, not us. Now, let my boy get on with his job painting up the numbers."

He raised his narrow eyebrows as he looked over at the man with the paint.

"Hurry up, John. We haven't got all day."

Quiet with shock, the group stood watching as the man in yellow overalls hurried up the path to Mma Tshadi's house and, first checking with the paper in his pocket, slapped a number across the door ... 1438. Then he made his way across to the next house ... 1439 ... and the next. Saying nothing, but looking grim and determined, Mma Tshadi set off, followed by others, in the direction of Chief Sekete's house.

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Meet the Author

Beverley Naidoo grew up in South Africa under apartheid. She says, "As a white child I didn't question the terrible injustices until I was a student. I decided then that unless I joined the resistance, I was part of the problem." Beverley Naidoo was detained without trial when she was twenty-one and later went into exile in Britain, where she has since lived.

Her first children's book, Journey to Jo'burg, was banned in South Africa until 1991, but it was an eye-opener for thousands of readers worldwide. Her characters in Chain of Fire, No Turning Back, and Out of Bounds face extraordinary challenges in a society that she describes as "more dangerous than any fantasy." She has won many awards for her writing, including the Carnegie Medal, the Jane Addams Book Award, and the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults for The Other Side of Truth, about two refugee children smuggled to London who are also featured in Web of Lies.

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