Karoo Plainsong by Barbara Mutch

(See also http://scenicsouth.co.za//2011/02/writing-karoo-plainsong-barbara-mutch/)

I could hardly put this book down, it gave me so much pleasure. It is well written and well researched and set in Cradock between roughly 1930 to1985.

I was born on a farm at the end of the Great Depression in 1933 in the neighbouring district of Tarkastad. My mother had to sell her gold ring to be able to buy napkins for my arrival. Barbara Mutch excellently describes the living conditions of her designated time: the desperate poverty, the anxiety of World War ll and the ever growing tighter grip of apartheid and its effect on her characters.

I lived through it all again. I can see my father with his ear glued to a static wireless, my mother in tears at the announcement of war, very limited supplies of petrol and sugar, powdered toothpaste (no tubes), the long drought after the war which was broken by floods, and the wool boom of 1949 which enabled my parents to buy a refrigerator for the first time. Words like ‘war’, ‘peace’, ‘up north’, ‘prisoners of war’ entered our naïve childhood. The sadness of brothers, fathers and cousins not returning from the war and seeing those who did return suffering from wounds and having mental problems brought the awful reality to us in our village.

It is a fact that many of the small Karoo towns are dying, but they have a wealth of stories waiting to be told – of eccentric characters, of beautiful buildings and of amazing achievements. Cradock, established in 1814, has many such stories. I had secretly hoped to to find at least one of these in Karoo Plainsong, but their absence does not detract from the book. The title is very clever.

Well done, Barbara. Keep writing about South Africa, even though you live in England!

 Beth Hoole, Fish Hoek