From Publishers Weekly
Orner's poetic, episodic examination of the varieties of life at an isolated Catholic primary school deep in the veld of Namibia coheres around the title character, a beautiful guerrilla fighter turned kindergarten teacher. Set in the early 1990s, soon after Namibia won independence from South Africa, this impressive debut novel (after Esther Stories
) is mostly narrated by Larry Kaplanski, a young volunteer who leaves Cincinnati, Ohio, to teach English and history at Farm Goas. Orner captures Goas's glacial rhythms, the extraordinary contrast between the desert's night and day, and the community's daily privations, including—for the single male teachers—a lust arising from boredom and loneliness. Mavala Shikongo, the principal's sister-in-law and the object of her colleagues' desires, reluctantly settles at Goas with her illegitimate baby boy, Tomo. Orner punctuates Larry's observations with brief interludes told from the points of view of other inhabitants of the school, and with haunting, cinematic imagery—boys do pull-ups on a huge cross; Mavala and Larry, who become friends and intimates, hold their afternoon trysts on the graves of Boer settlers. These telling snapshots stand in for the larger sociopolitical, cultural and religious issues facing a country emerging from a century of colonization. (Apr.)
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Talk about stories never told. Larry Kaplanski from Cincinnati is a volunteer teacher in a small, rough all-boys Catholic school in the Namibian desert in 1991, just after independence. He shares a shack with colleagues and is in love with beautiful Mavala Shikongo, who is a kindergarten teacher and veteran guerilla fighter from the antiapartheid "struggle." The weight of the brutal colonial and apartheid past is always there, but the freedom story is never reverential, and the taut vignettes, anguished and sometimes hilarious, are about ordinary people now. The novel is more situation than story, but there are scenes that will stay with you forever: the three illegal refugee children from across the border, who only want school, and then are gone after three days; the drought stories; the fence building (Why? How?); the farce of the Cincinnati community that sends an old broken piano "for the adorable little school somewhere in deepest Africa." Orner, a prizewinning short story writer, has lived in Namibia, and his debut novel brings close those far from the centers of power. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved