At the dawn of the 20th century Tjipuka and Ruhapo begin their journey as newly-weds in Okahandja, German South-West Africa. Filled with excitement and happiness, as they should be at the life that awaits them, there are storm clouds hovering that threaten to invade their comfortable, familiar world. For some time now, the Germans have been encroaching on the land that belongs to their people: the proud Herero’s. Their leader, Samuel Maharero, chosen specifically by the Germans because they can easily manipulate him, is selling out; giving away his people’s land and cattle. Should they stay and fight, or should they move away to Bechuanaland, which is ruled by the British? But Ruhapo will never leave – he’s not a coward, and he won’t run – he and his people will stay and fight the Germans. But the disaster that ensues sees the Herero fleeing for their lives.
Tjipuka is forced into the unforgiving desert despite wanting to remain in her home sure that Ruhapo will return for her. She realises though, that what she called home is no longer their safe haven and begins on a journey that will challenge her like nothing she could ever have anticipated. There are days when she prays that she will die, and she witnesses things that make her doubt her belief in the inherent good of man, especially the white man. She wonders how on earth the human spirit is expected to endure such hardship.
Riette grows up in the Transvaal with stern, farming parents. Lonely after the death of her brother, she has dreams to become a nurse and leave the harsh environment that her home has become. But her parents have little regard for her dreams and she’s cruelly married off to their much older neighbour, Henk, dispatched to live with him and his two daughters. Life is hard, and soon becomes even more difficult when Henk leaves her to run the farm as he goes to fight the British. The Anglo-Boer War brings unimaginable horror to their lives as Riette and the girls are forced off their land into a British concentration camp.
Through exquisite, evocative writing, Kubuitsile weaves the story of these two resilient women who must overcome shocking odds in order to survive. It seems that no matter how hard they try, the cards have been stacked against them, and they seem destined to suffer. But they are determined to accomplish whatever it is that they set out to do, proving to their adversaries that they cannot and will not be thwarted.
The pain and suffering that these two women undergo is unimaginable. The circumstances and conditions they have to endure are described here in detail that makes the reader shudder. But this is a story that must be told. Africa’s colonial wars are rarely, if ever, conveyed from a female perspective, and the fact that we have an author who is boldly willing to do this, and who has done it so admirably, must be lauded.
Thank you so much to Penguin Random House SA for sending me a copy of this beautiful book to review.