Stones for my Father
Corlie has grown up on the Transvaal of South Africa, living with her mother and brothers on a small farm where she learns to appreciate both the harshness and the splendor of the African landscape. As part of a Boer family, Corlie struggles against the strictures of her society – customs which declare that sons hold a higher place than daughters and that the Boers are superior to the African natives. When the British invade her home and drive her family from their farm, Corlie escapes to the bush and joins up with the laager, a caravan of Boer refugees. But in the face of such threats, the elders’ rules are more strictly enforced than ever. As Corlie tries to bridge the divide – to protect her brothers, to save her African friend Sipho, to reach out to a British soldier who shows her compassion – she walks a dangerous path. In trying to make peace between the two worlds, she risks being disowned by both.
This is the first young adult novel I have ever encountered that centers on the Boer Wars – and it rises to the challenge splendidly. In choosing to tell the story from the perspective of the Dutch settlers – a group who endured horrible treatment from the British, to be sure, but who also played the role of invaders themselves – the author gives insight into the complexities of the conflict. Corlie’s conflicting loyalties are authentic and believable, and the secret she learns of her own past comes as a surprising but fitting twist. This slim volume is a beautiful evocation of South Africa – of a time, a culture, a geography – and it is also a human story that offers no clear-cut heroes and villains, but instead a range of wholly complex people.