Thursday, September 16, 2010

Coming home to South Africa

I'm nearing the end of Jassy Mackenzie's novel Random Violence, but I want to discuss something that happens at the beginning.

After a short opening chapter that functions as a prologue, the novel proper begins with the protagonist, a private investigator named Jade de Jong, returning to Johannesburg after years abroad. Roger Smith's Wake Up Dead begins similarly, with his cop-turned-mercenary protagonist, Billy Afrika, returning home to Cape Town reclaim what's his.

I have my guesses as to why such a motif attracted the two South African writers. Let's hear yours. What other novels, crime or otherwise, begin with the protagonists returning home? And why?
(Jassy Mackenzie will be a member of my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m. Read a chapter from Random Violence here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

I think South Africa would be an especially interesting place to return to-depending upon when left.
Things have changed so much, whereas most place remain, boringly, the same. It give the protagonist license to discuss the changes.

September 16, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Declan Hughes' Ed Loy series begins with his protagonist coming back to Ireland after living in California for many years. I have no idea what the reason was, but I'd guess that it has something to do with wanting to give Loy a kind of insider/outsider point of view, and more pragmatically, I bet Hughes was eager to try what he'd learned from MacDonald on his own home turf. It was a smart move, I think.

Another book I liked about returning home was Greg Iles The Quiet Game. Though in his case, it's a return to the South. I think in all the books I can think of on this theme, there is a sense of having left when things got just too untenable, and the coming back after many years as part of growing up, of finding the wherewithal to face the place and the past.

September 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It give the protagonist license to discuss the changes.

Patti, that exactly what I had in mind. Both protagonists that I mentioned would have left South Africa after apartheid had fallen but before many of the more recent changes had kicked in. I've just finished Random Violence, and it has some interesting and, to me, unexpected things to say about recent changes in the country.

September 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, not only that, but Ed Loy returns to Ireland for his mother's funeral, which is about as fine a symbol of returning to one's roots as I can think of.

I had assumed that having Loy return from Los Angeles was Hughes' way of paying homage to Chandler (I found out later that MacDonald was more his model) and that the return was, as you suggest, Hughes' declaration that he was taking the hard-boiled, wisecracking P.I. crime/family drama to Ireland. Hughes denied this, insisting that it reflected more his own return after having spent some time in California. But I'm not entirely convinced. I think you're right.

Here's one line from The Wrong Kind of Blood, the first Loy novel:

He didn't know whether she was his father's half sister. He didn't have an opinion one way or the other. Family was a pain in the bollocks.

Now, if that's not a funny tweak at the MacDonald-style crime drama of family secrets, then I'm a leprechaun.

I have not read Greg Iles, though he comes recommended highly.

September 16, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Iles is kind of all over the place, and I haven't really gotten into him otherwise. But this going home story, which I suspect he invests with a bit of autobiography is very resonant. I'd recommend it.

September 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just took a quick look at his Web site. He does seem to be all over the place. (The site goes out of its way to be friendly to readers, too, I think.)

September 17, 2010  
Anonymous O. Bernadotte said...

On South Africans who haven't gone home, has anyone noticed that two of them, J.M Coetzee and Peter Temple, are shortlisted in Australia for the Premier of Victoria's prize for literature? With them on the list is Peter Carey.

Coetzee and Carey have won the Nobel Prize (Coetzee), the Booker Prize (two each to Coetzee and Carey) and the Miles Franklin Prize (two to Carey). Temple is coming off his win in the Miles Franklin this year for Truth. but this is tough company.

September 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suppose Temple's shortlisting for this prize will cause fits of apoplexy among the people driven nuts by his winning the Miles Franklin award. This is a pleasant prospect.

Temple is pertinent to this post. He did not emigrate until he was around thirty, and he has said that a certain guilt clings to white people from his time who were born in South Africa, if I recall his statement correctly.

September 18, 2010  
Blogger Stan Trollip (of Michael Stanley) said...

Of course Mala Nunn is also from southern Africa (Swaziland, I believe). And I too, after 35 years in the States, am now more in South Africa than the US. The best known book about this phenomenon in South Africa is My Traitor's Heart by Riann Milan.

I think most whites left South Africa because they were concerned about their future there - an understandable sentiment. I left in 1970 both for educational reasons and because I felt apartheid impinged on me and my freedoms. I read very little about this side of those bad times. Many whites were victims too - particularly those who opposed apartheid. But they knew they were victims. I think most of the remaining whites were victims too - and it is only years after apartheid was officially put to rest that they are beginning to realize that.

September 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My Traitor's Heart sounds especially worth reading. Thanks.

Perhaps we can get you, Mala Nunn and Peter Temple discussing this on a panel at a future crime-fiction convention.

September 20, 2010  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

I am currently reading Lovesong by Alex Miller (no relation, but one of my favourite authors, who has reaped many awards here in Australia). It is a story within a story. Virtually every character in it has to contend with issues of 'home', be it facing the death of a loved one, recognizing one's place in the world or waiting to return to the place where they 'belong'. The first person narrator of the stories, a writer, has recently returned to his home in Melbourne after a long sojourn in Venice and has conflicting feelings about whether to stay or return to Italy. I haven't finished the book so I'll be interested to see if he resolves this problem. All the characters he writes about are wrestling with 'home' issues, too. Fascinating reading.

September 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Homecoming has been a resonant theme at least as far back as Homer.

It may be of additional interest that both Jassy Mackenzie and Roger Smith are younger writers, as far as I know, and may not have experienced much in the way of leaving South Africa and returning to it. Mackenzie was born in Zimbabwe, though.

September 20, 2010  

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