A Little Blue Jacket
Set in South Africa in the years preceding the First World War and immediately following the formation of South Africa as a nation, this debut novel is a gentle and moving look into a marriage. Ursula is a young South African of English descent, orphaned at birth and raised by an emotionally distant older sister. Forced by circumstances to be independent, she works as an office clerk in Cape Town and also occasionally works as a cloakroom assistant in a theater, which is how she meets the handsome young Englishman, David. In spite of her middle-class background, she is passionately drawn to the working-class young man and tries to fulfill her hopes for a warm family life in her marriage to him. A Little Blue Jacket is the story of how they fight to sustain their life together in the face of almost unbearable tragedy.
This is a truly beautifully written book, filled not only with rich historical detail but also with great insight into emotions and human relationships. It begins with a cliffhanger and returns periodically in the narrative to this heart-wrenchingly suspenseful moment in Ursula’s life. The author seamlessly examines the corroding effects of jealousy and class and cultural differences. While the book is not simply a rabid indictment of the beginnings of apartheid, the author does include individuals who exhibit the worst of human nature in their desire to maintain absolute dominion over other individuals, classes and races. This is a book that merits a second reading to fully appreciate its depth and beauty, and White is definitely an author whose second novel will be highly anticipated.