"A Blade of Grass "
(reviewed by Kam Aures JAN 11, 2004)
Set in the 1970's along the South African border, A Blade of Grass is a novel about survival, friendship and pride. The two main characters are Marit Laurens and Tembi. Marit is a young British woman who is newly married to Ben and together they have recently purchased a farm.
Tembi, a young black girl, works on the Laurens' land where she lives in a hut with her mother Grace who is the Laurens' housekeeper. Her father lives in the city where he works in a gold mine to help support the family.
After a series of tragic events, both women find themselves alone with no one else to turn to except for each other. With Tembi's support, Marit addresses the workers to let them know that she will continue to keep the farm going. "If you think that I can't do it, then you are wrong. If you think that because I am a woman I can't do it, then you are wrong. You will give me the same respect that you gave to Baas Ben. And if you cannot, then you must leave this farm. If you think that you can take advantage of me because I am a woman alone and without a husband now, then you must leave this farm. If you cannot help me to run this farm, then you must leave. I say these things to you now, at the beginning, to give you a choice. Because if you cannot accept me, or work for me, you must leave." In the following days the workers begin to leave the farm in groups eventually leaving Marit and Tembi to fend for themselves.
The main storyline focuses on the development of Marit and Tembi's relationship from master-servant to friends. In the beginning, after Tembi has taken her Mother's place as the Laurens' housekeeper, Marit is jealous of the attention that her husband Ben is showing toward Tembi. "There is an unspoken admission on his part that he has looked with lust at Tembi, and an unspoken admission on her part that she saw this."
However, when situations change Marit's feelings toward Tembi start to soften when she realizes that she needs Tembi in order to keep her farm and to survive. This interracial friendship, in apartheid South Africa is frowned upon by the neighbors and by the increasingly segregated community in which they live, but they ignore the scorn and let their friendship grow stronger.
Although the concept of the story is very intriguing, there are some parts of the novel that seem to drag with an excessive amount of description which causes the story to lose it's smooth flow. Without these long passages the book would be more gripping and engaging, as the story would move along at a faster pace.
All in all, DeSoto's novel is a good start for his debut work. He is very talented in the area of character development so much so that the main plot centers around it. I really enjoyed his choice of subject matter and the interesting way in which he crafted the story and relationships. Originally from South African, DeSoto has experienced the very surroundings that he is writing about and is able to paint us an accurate picture so we ourselves are able to visualize the settings in our heads. I do look forward to more of DeSoto's novels in the future and hope that as he grows as a novelist his words will flow less choppily and more smoothly. A Blade of Grass, despite its minor flaws, is worth the read.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from A Blade of Grass at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- A Blade of Grass (September 2003)
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- Reading Group Guide for A Blade of Grass
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About the Author:
Lewis DeSoto was born in South Africa and emigrated with his family to Canada in the 1960s, where he attended UBC and was awarded a Masters degree in Fine Art. He has exhibited paintings in public and private galleries across Canada. DeSoto's short stories and essays have been published in numerous journals and he was awarded the Writers Union Short Prose Award. The former editor of the Literary Review of Canada, DeSoto is married to the artist Gunilla Josephson and divides his time between Toronto and Normandy.