A South African novel explores apartheid-era servitude
by Marlene Van Niekerk
translation by Michiel Heyns
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Few books I've read carry the visceral impact of Marlene van Niekerk's Agaat; it is the South African writer's second novel and fifth book, and it is stunning. Set in the apartheid era of the 1950s into the '90s, on a dairy farm contentiously run by a desperately unhappy white couple, Milla and Jak de Wet, and their half-adopted, half-enslaved black maid, Agaat, it is about institutional racial violence, intimate domestic violence, human violence against the natural world, pride, folly, self-deception, and the innately mixed, sometimes debased nature of human love. It is especially about how this mixed nature is expressed through the deep and complex language of the body; I don't believe I've ever read a book that so powerfully translates this physical language into printed words.
Agaat is narrated almost entirely
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