Bitter Eden


This work is based on the author’s experience of being captured in the North African campaign and landing in an Italian, then German, prisoner of war camp. It focuses on how three men who consider themselves straight deal with this life of uncomfortable physical closeness coupled with the extreme psychological stress of their captivity. No Hogan’s Heroes or even Stalag 17, this frank and often startling tale relates the complex realities of life in such a camp, from the unrelenting boredom to the incredible pettiness of both guards and fellow inmates. The results are perhaps predictable but seldom considered, except in Tatumkhulu’s remarkable story.

Reading about World War II is one thing; experiencing its depravity and misery is something else entirely. This novel is that something else. An intensely personal tale, it is told entirely from the perspective of the author’s thoughts. But this is the mind of an award-winning poet who had only written two books, this one in the last decade of his life. Part deathbed confession and part lyrical remembrance, the book is a psychological odyssey, searching through a time in his life when the normal conventions were turned upside down, and the need for emotional closeness with another human had the most unexpected results. One could consider it a male version of A Woman in Berlin. Not exactly an entertaining book, it nevertheless stands as an interesting and important work, if one cares to join the author in confronting the most uncomfortable reality of his life.

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