You should meet this guy I met while reading Fred Khumalo’s Dancing the Death Drill, an historical novel set in France, 1958 and South Africa, 1900-and-up. The man’s name is Jean-Jacques Henri. He is what you would call a “mixed-race” man of African origin; for over thirty-years he has been living in France. On one occasion, while seeing about his waiting duties at a restaurant, Jean-Jacques surprised me. He killed two paying customers!
Thus, a French journalist by the name of Thierry takes it upon himself to track down a South African artist named Jerry Moloto in the hopes of finding out what is behind Jean-Jacques’. shall we say, moment of weakness. What Moloto offers him is more than information. He reveals things about Jean-Jacques that surprises him. Also, Maloto takes Thierry to South Africa, in the year 1900, a year after the Anglo-Boer War’s inception.
When the proverbial fat lady sang, Fred Khumalo created for the reader an everlasting image of defiance in the face of death.
It was tears from me for poor Cornelius de la Rey. Despite his hate for the British, he does not want to fight. In fact, if it were up to him, he would much rather spend his days working a farm. But it is not up to him; it is up to a war that the author writes he doesn’t undertand. Thankfully, de la Rey’s author had bestowed courage in the man. That, and a crazy idea to desert.
Take de la Rey’s decision to desert and put it under the lense of your reader’s microscope. My, before I knew it, de la Rey went and did it. And there I was thinking that I was going to have to make my way through countless chapters of war and graphically described corpses. De la Rey came up with the idea to desert his company and off he went. Bye bye chaps. See you I don’t know when.
But enough of that man de la Rey. Onto Jean-Jacques, the real star of this book. His real name is Pitso Motaung and he is the son of Cornelius and a native woman named Motshilisi. Ask Madame Clinquemeur and she will tell you that the teenager she spent a little too much time with at school full of potential, thoug she advised him to better control his urges lest he wants to find himself in serious trouble.
In 1916, the time came for Pitso to right his father’s wrongs. His father had run away from a war, remember? His father had run away from his responsibility towards him and his mother too. By going to the front lines of the “white man’s war”, Pitso could finally prove to himself that he was nothing like this phantom father that he both loved and hated. Here Pitso began participating in an inner duel against his own identity.
Finally, the day arrived Pitso boarded the SS Mendi. This is what Fred Khumalo had been gradually leading readers to. The voyage of the SS Mendi, a ship that actually existed in South Africa’s history, a ship full of African soldiers, doomed to sink.When the proverbial fat lady sang, Fred Khumalo created for the reader an everlasting image of defiance in the face of death. Pitso’s story, however, doesn’t end with the ship’s.
I received a free copy of this book from Penguin Random House South Africa in exchange for an honest review.
Date Published: January, 2017