Ellah Allfrey

Rachel Joyce's 'Perfect' A Flawed, But Hopeful Novel

Jan 18, 2014

It's 1972, when we meet 11-year-old Byron Hemmings, an English school boy living with his mother and sister in a country house. Byron's father Seymour works in the City (the financial district of London) and only comes home to see his family at the weekends. Though his work pays for the big house, the Jaguar that his wife drives and the private education his children receive, he is, in reality, only a visitor in their lives. Within several chapters one begins to believe that this is perhaps for the best — they don't seem a happy family.

Roughly three-quarters of South Africa's Jewish population are descendants of Lithuanian immigrants. Of these peasants, townspeople, tradesmen, shopkeepers and intellectuals who fled centuries of persecution and embarked on a passage to Africa, many dreamed of a new land and the promise of new beginnings. Kenneth Bonert's ancestors were part of this diaspora. In his debut novel, written in language as dense and varied as the South African landscape he describes, Bonert delivers a taut, visceral account of a young Jewish boy's African life.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.