Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Dark Stream.

Eugene Marais, youngest child, mystic number thirteen. 1871-1936

South African history thrills me. A kindred spirit recommended The Dark Stream some months ago and I was lucky enough to find a copy at Kwagga Books in Kalk Bay. I'm only halfway through, but I look forward to reading another installment every night. I love Leon Rousseau's turn of phrase. Of E.M.'s father Jan, he has this to say: "He was a rather pathetic King Lear, Transvaal style."
Like most South Africans with an interest in literature, I knew a few things about Eugene Marais, namely that he was a poet (we read a large body of his work at school), he was a journalist, a doctor, a naturalist and a lawyer. A morphine addict who eventually committed suicide.  Fewer may know that he was educated in English, not Afrikaans. He was a hypnotist, a psycho-analyst. He could interpret dreams and he charmed many women. When he returned from his sojourn in London, he wore gold Kruger Rands for buttons and shoes with long pointed toes.

It's hard to imagine exactly what South Africa must have been like back then. This book makes it so much more real. The things people were dealing with: the Boer War, women and children dying by their thousands in the camps. Corruption in the government. People were traveling great distances, going to foreign countries by ship, undertaking expeditions into the unmapped wild. They were writing letters. They were filled with superstition. They were struck down by malaria, by childhood diseases and by childbirth itself.

"...the most perfect female in body and mind, that God ever planted in South Africa." E.M.'s soft-eyed beauty Aletta Beyers from Natal. She died eight days after giving birth to their son, after barely two years of marriage.
Too heavy to take with me on the plane, this book, but I'll happily keep it on my bookshelf for years to come, right there next to Deneys Reitz's Commando.

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