“[A] beautiful first novel.”
“[A] quietly intense first novel.”
“A Blade of Grass never falters. It is quite simply a master work by a mature and powerful new voice.”
“Resembles in loose fashion our own master Faulkner’s… novel The Unvanquished.… An intense reading experience… something readers will remember.”
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A Blade of Grass is a graceful and stunning epic set in 1970s South Africa, on a remote farm owned by a newly married couple. The mistress of the house, Märit, is young, recently orphaned, easily intimidated, and unaccustomed to rural life. With no close neighbors or friends, Märit feels isolated in the house while her husband works in the fields all day. Märit's displacement is soon echoed in the character of Tembi, the daughter of Märit's household maid, who assumes her mother's responsibilities in the farmhouse after she is hit by a car.
An encroaching civil war soon threatens the tranquility of the farm, and before long a plague of violence descends. Abandoned by the other farm workers, the care of the farm is now left to Märit and Tembi, who begin this new struggle for survival as equals, but whose unity is put to a devastating test.
DeSoto paints an unforgettable portrait of South Africa with tensions, both political and sexual, simmering underneath. Recalling J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace in his portrayal of apartheid, DeSoto explodes onto the literary scene with a first novel of tremendous power and literary skill. His description of a terrifying world gone awry holds at its center a deep understanding of the patience of the land, and the enduring hope for renewal. This is an important book. (Fall 2003 Selection)
DeSoto writes lyrically about the African countryside, and he delicately reveals the nuances of interracial sexual attraction.Tony Eprile
By a South African-born former editor of the Literary Review of Canada, this ambitious, overwritten novel strives vainly for lyricism while tepidly conveying the chaos and terror arising out of the struggle between white Afrikaaners and native blacks in the 1970s. From childhood a victim of a country sitting on a powder keg of racial upheaval, 18-year-old Tembi, the housekeeper for a newly wed white farming couple, struggles to find a sense of security, planting the seeds from an exotic fruit her father has sent her from the distant city where he works in a gold mine as military jets buzz ominously overhead. Her mistress, the recently orphaned Merit Laurens-the uneasy bride of a young Brit lured abroad by dreams of becoming a farmer and the offer of cheap government land-suddenly finds herself a widow, with only Tembi to insulate her from the unwelcoming, still half-wild land and the restive, hostile native workers on the farm. Shunned by the white Afrikaaners because she treats Tembi as an equal, Merit rejects their offer to escape the danger of encroaching war, electing to stay on her land because she has nothing else and nowhere to go. The novel plays out as a downward spiral of hopelessness, with the two women suffering unthinkable hardship in the face of almost certain ruin. DeSoto gives little dimension to the South African landscape or the struggle that ravages it, but more serious is his failure to bring his protagonists to convincing life. Merit's tremulous, repetitive musings and Tembi's stoic resolve alter little over the course of the novel, and their stilted, stylized exchanges ("Why are you sad?" "No, I'm happy, Tembi. I'm happy, because you are such a good person") are leached of meaning and substance. 3-city author tour. (Sept. 19) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In South Africa not long ago, rich, arable land is offered cheaply to anyone willing to take the risk of living on or close to dangerous borders. So it happens that Ben Laurens, an Englishman with a passion for farming, brings new bride Marit to one such border farm with dreams of raising crops and a family on his own land. The dream is short-lived as antiwhite violence erupts and most of the villagers decamp for safer places. Marit, a woman raised in privilege and unaccustomed to manual labor, is determined to remain on the farm with her black maid, Tembi. Their resolve is tested, first by hostile workers and then by suspicious strangers, natural predators, and the elements. Their relationship, which begins as master and slave, evolves through mutual dependence into friendship and, as their difficulties mount, deteriorates again into suspicion and hostility. This fine first novel is tension-filled and swiftly paced. A good choice for most public libraries.-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Kingston, Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A ponderous debut details the Job-like sufferings of two young women (one black, one white) on a farm in apartheid South Africa of the 1970s. The remote farm is in a border area targeted by guerillas. The owner is Ben Laurens, a recent arrival from England, but the focus is on his young bride Märit. A city girl who has just lost both parents, she worries about her ability to handle farm life. Far more self-confident is the 18-year-old Tembi, whose mother Grace is the maid. They live in the kraal with the farmworkers. Tembi is close to the earth; her secret garden contains seeds sent by her father, a gold miner. The land, described with a lulling reverence, is as much of the context here as apartheid. The first tragedy is the death of Grace, killed in a hit-and-run; next Ben is killed by a guerilla land-mine. Märit, needy and fearful, invites Tembi into her house and her bed, clinging to her for comfort. Then, in a barely credible makeover, she goes native (bare feet, a sarong, the works) and tells the farmworkers she is now the boss. Her authority is short-lived. All her cattle are stolen. As the land turns into a war zone, her black workers leave (but not the loyal Tembi), followed by her white neighbors. Locusts devour her vegetables. An itinerant black man, Khoza, fixes their pump, but can he be trusted? Märit, still the same hand-wringing lost soul, can't decide whether to shoot him or sleep with him; her foolishness seriously upsets Tembi. A three-way tussle ends with the arrival of more visitors: first, white soldiers, then black soldiers on horseback, who conscript Khoza and Tembi. Märit, her house looted, her farm ravaged, drowns herself in the river. First-novelist DeSoto doesnot allow the wretched Märit even an epiphany as he piles on with a vengeance. A dreary tale of plunder and loss, uninflected by humor or nuance.