Stones for My Father by Trilby Kent
5th Jan 2012
Between 1899 and 1902, British troops ransacked the population of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic, two long established colonies of Boers, earlier settlers to South Africa who became Afrikaners. British troops, mostly made of regiments from other colonies such as Canada, suffered heavy losses mainly due to disease. The losing side returned to scorched unworkable earth, burnt out farms, and their families decimated by concentration camps.
Corie Roux is a twelve year old girl living in constant fear on the vaal. Her father died of consumption two years earlier and her mother hates her, doting instead on her younger brothers. Corie finds consolation only in spending the nights camped out by her father’s stone covered grave, and her friendship with her family’s serving boy Sipho. Corie is a lovely character, reminding me a lot of an African Laura Ingalls, and her relationships with her brothers and Sipho are sweet and realistic.
As the British threat moves closer, Corie’s family flees their beloved farm for the safety of the laager, a wagon fort reminiscent of Corie’s grandparents’ time when the family settled in the vaal after the Great Trek. However, they cannot run forever and soon the British catch up with them. The women and children are rounded up and taken to a ‘volunteer refugee centre’, also known as a concentration camp (yup, Britain invented the concentration camp. I know I was filled with pride at my country reading that bit), where they are punished for having male relatives still fighting by being forcibly starved and denied access to medication.
Corie never gives up hope, even when her mother, whose actions towards are explained by a somewhat tacked on twist at the end, casts her out. She holds fast to her memories of her father and Africa before the war and uses all of her wits and courage to survive.
The book includes historical notes and reflections from the author, who is descended from a Boer hero, which I was really grateful for, and I immediately wanted to learn everything else I could about the conflict. This book doesn’t whitewash history; the way in which the Afrikaners treat their black servants is shocking, but needed to be shown. 26,000 woman and children died in concentration camps in Southern Africa because of a scramble between two opposing colonisers and this is the first fiction book I’ve ever read that talks about it.
I loved this book, and read it in a night. It is beautifully written, very, very sad in places but full of hope in others. Corie is a wonderful heroine and, although the ending is a little trite, I would love to read more of her adventures. The descriptions of the battles with the British and the camp are horrific without being gruesome, or overly sentimental. This is the perfect book for all ages, especially younger teens, and to be honest I’d even read this aloud to an intelligent ten year old.
Rating: 4.5/5 great stuff.
Recommended reading: Unsurprisingly I’m going to say The Cry of the Go Away Bird by Andrea Eames. This book also made me want to re-read Anne Frank’s Diary and the Once/Now/Then/After series by Morris Gleitzman.