The Lion Seeker
In the 1930s, Jews in South Africa were coping with the threat of Hitler in the territory they had left: Lithuania, in the case of the Helger family, the main characters in this interesting historical novel. The protagonist, Isaac, strives to become what his mother calls “a Clever” (in contrast to “a Stupid”) by building a business in junked automobiles in partnership with a dubious character who sees the impending war as an opportunity in scrap metal. Isaac falls in love with a girl from a prosperous liberal family, coming to her attention when he sets a rival’s hair on fire. Isaac encounters Greyshirts who model themselves on the Nazis and become more powerful as World War II approaches. Isaac resents discrimination against Jews, but he cannot conceive of the Blacks as anything but inferiors to be exploited, and he dismisses anyone who claims to think differently.
Isaac’s mother carries a scar from a pogrom, the details of which he discovers gradually. She hopes to aid relatives back in Dusat to escape from the growing horrors. His hard work to build her a dream house might be considered admirable, but he commits an unforgivable crime in this pursuit.
Afrikaans, Zulu, Yiddish (called Jewish), and other languages are sprinkled through the book, adding texture at the cost of occasional confusion. The main character is not particularly sympathetic, but the virtue of the book is its strong portrayal of the Jewish diaspora during a crucial period.