Skinner’s Drift—that’s the name of the farm in the Limpopo River Valley near the Botswana border to which self-exiled South African Eva von Rensburg returns after living in New York for ten years. Her mother is long dead, the victim of an awful shooting accident, and now Eva is on a mission to see her dying father.
The visible landscape comes beautifully alive—at one point a character named Jannie, a friend of the family and a hunter and taxidermist sticks his head out of the window of his house and lets out a howl, because, as Fugard tells us, “he couldn’t imagine living anywhere more wild and beautiful.” We get a clear sense of that beauty in the novelist’s descriptions of the bush along the river and the horizons of the dusty roads the characters travel.
But Eva’s inner landscape is terribly troubled. She’s been carrying around with her since childhood the dark legacy of a terrible deed her father once committed, and her sense of life seems frozen, despite the climate, despite the heat. The narrative of her childhood on the farm, assisted by long passages from her late mother’s journals, gives us a view of that troubled past of hers and serves as a lively, often lyrical, counterpoint to the familial duties of the present. Her parents, the black servants and farm workers, neighboring settlers, all become quite vivid and memorable as does the feel of the time and place, the land along the sometimes flowing Limpopo, as Lefu, the aging black farm manager thinks of it, with its birds and lions, fierce sandstone cliffs, and the ancient baobab tree three miles south of the river that marked the southern boundary.
In this self-contained space, where past and present mingle, Lisa Fugard dramatizes for us the great difficulties of reconciliation, between family members, among the disparate peoples of a great African nation, between our species and the rest of nature. That she succeeds at all is a measure of her fine talent, that she transports us to this place and makes us feel the turmoil of personal politics and local disruption in our very bones marks the triumph of a powerful first novel.
—Alan Cheuse, 2007 finalist judge