I first heard about The Zebra Affaire through a reading circle. It was hailed as a book that must be read, as it was in one word ‘spectacular!’ I’m not one to buy into hype, preferring to form my own judgement in these matters. However, as I turned the final page it was evident that ‘spectacular’ was too banal a description. The Zebra Affaire is rhapsody of words, a masterpiece movement that flits between high and low notes creating emotions tumultuous and terrifying; loving and compassionate.
Life in the mid-1970’s South Africa is brought alive with stunning visual clarity. The contradiction, subjugation and self-evisceration by a country, resolute in its decision not to recognise the capabilities and talents of all its people.
The love story of Elsa and Stanwell, although the main line within the book, was not the only attraction that kept me hooked. The way in which Mark Fine interweaves his historical references – to support a scene or a character’s action – intrigued me, and delivered a higher level of realism. It brought home the fear, pain and hopelessness of the struggling lovers when faced with an immutable society, barren of comprehending anything beyond the dictate of a brutal regime.
It is obvious that Mr Fine has an acute understanding of the human condition. His careful, but colourful analysis of people, their motivations, their obsessions and how tradition and heritage determines behaviour is quite astounding. This perceptive insight intertwined within the story makes for a sociological dissection of mankind, and shows why peace is unfortunately still on an olive branch too far out of our reach.
I found the supporting characters, especially DGF to be very fascinating. Often in books, the background of supporting characters is left to hurried flashback, but in The Zebra Affaire this is not so. A rich landscape of history is played out enabling an understanding as to why DGF makes those decisions and takes such a great risk.
Much has been written about the horrors of apartheid, and this book exemplifies further a nation held down by abject fear. But it also propels the reader through a window in time, to view the lives of people and their mission to restore humanity and build love, when all around them government-sanctioned hatred persisted. It shows their courage, determination and most of all, their hope to create something to live for. A something called freedom.
The Zebra Affaire is a profound, provocative and powerful book that should be on the reading list of every educational institution across the world. Perhaps, only then will that olive branch be a little closer to reach.
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