This book is a historical novel that relives and educates us about the Boer war from the perspective of a fourteen year old girl.
While the vastly outnumbered Boer commandos fight in the field, half a million British soldiers torch a flaming path across the South African veld. As they go, the British imprison thousands of displaced Boer families, including Aletta Venter’s, and cast them into newly devised ‘concentration camps’.
In a crowded tent with her mother and siblings, Aletta finds ways to cope with the confinement, privation and loss, but searches for the rarest of comforts – a bit of adolescent normalcy, perhaps even the spark of forbidden romance. Her weapon of choice in this personal battle: a young girl’s powerful sense of hope.
A deeply moving, intimate portrait of family, friendship and love, set against the backdrop of the Second Boer War at the turn of the twentieth century, The Undesirables (the British term for those who refused to surrender) is the heart-rending yet life-affirming new novel from the top ten bestselling author of Guernica, winner of the Richard & Judy Summer Read.
KIYA’S THOUGHTS ||
Set in South Africa during the Boer War of 1899-1902, this book shares the hardships faced by the persecuted through the voice of fourteen year old Lettie. A few members of her family such as her older brother, father and grandfather are off to war, to defend their homelands, when the British troops arrive and burn down their farm. As a result, Lettie, her mother, younger brother and baby sister are taken to a concentration camp where they are denied of basic human necessities.
It is particularly hard hitting to read knowing it is a young child describing the confusion, pain and tolerance she develops towards coping with the horrendous conditions of overcrowded tents, poor sanitation and malnutrition, and the deplorable conditions they are required to live it. Through the entirety of the war, Lettie had her childhood stolen away from her, and traded for experiences of: the death of loved ones, living in inadequate conditions, being denied of warmth, food, privacy, observing first hand the suffering inside the hospital tent, loss of their family life, and loss of education and normality.
The writer conveys the betrayal she feels when she befriends a British soldier by the name Maples. Maples has no desire to be fighting and shows compassion by gifting her with a Dicken’s book to read, and smuggling letters from Lettie’s aunt in another nearby camp to her. However, the author, through the young narrator, expresses the mature realisation that not all British individuals are evil, and that some have good hearts and have no desire to be savages destroying her country. I think this is a significant turning point in the novel “He was British, but the war had not been his fault,” and this sentiment can be much applicable to the real world today. There are many wars, genocides, and crimes against humanity being committed on a regular, as heartbreaking as it is to admit. However, it is important not to tarnish all with the same brush, and reserve judgement and acknowledge there will be people with the same roots as the perpetrators of crimes, that challenge the savagery and strive to support the persecuted.
Maples also teaches Lettie how although the British were sinners in this instance, the Boers themselves were not sin free by questioning the time the Boers took land from the Zulus and enslaved some and challenged whether “’Oh . . . were [the natives] happy you showed up? Did they welcome you? I doubt it. See, we’re not so different.’”
Through the innocent and forgiving nature of the young girl who narrates the story, a harsh spotlight is shone on the mistreatment of women and children during the war. Almost twenty two thousand Boer children died in British concentration camps – this was more than the combined fatalities of soldiers from both sides of the war.
As I went through the notes, I sensed I’d been hollowed out. The camp had made me see the order of the things that we surrender. What goes first? Consideration? Compassion? Friendship? And then it gets down to faith, or maybe it’s family and then faith, or maybe even memories. It was only when everything was taken away that you got to see what was at your core. And if you could hold on to that, that singular meaning, you went on; if you couldn’t, the collapse was complete.
QUESTIONS FOR YOU ||
- What’s your initial thoughts after reading the above quote?
- What are you thoughts on this book from just reading my, I suppose, review?
- What genre do you read usually?
- What book would you recommend to me?
PRIOR BOOK REVIEW ||