Friday, April 1, 2011

"Stones for My Father"

Trilby Kent studied History at Oxford University and Social Anthropology at the LSE. She has written for the Canadian and British national press and in 2010 was shortlisted in the Guardian's International Development Journalism Competition. She is the author of two novels for children (published in Canada and the U.S.) and one for adults (published in the U.K.) and is working on a PhD. She lives in London, England.

Her novel Stones for My Father follows 12-year-old Coraline Roux through the darkest days of the Anglo-Boer War: from the sacking of her family’s farm, to a trek across the battle-scarred Transvaal, to internment in a British concentration camp. Scattered throughout are moments of quiet beauty, including a figure of hope who emerges in the form of a Canadian soldier.

Kent applied the Page 69 Test to Stones for My Father and reported the following:
Page 69 falls just short of the halfway mark in Corlie’s story: the events described here occur while she is still living in the bush as part of a laager of Boer families fleeing the British. In the first part of the scene, she has discovered one of the elders viciously beating her friend, Sipho, with an ox whip. Just as she’s trying to decide what to do, Sipho’s mother (the family’s housemaid) appears out of nowhere to defend the boy.
“Let go of my son!” she yelled. Her throat muscles constricted as she hurled herself at him, outlining the taut tendon and sinews of her neck like the roots of a tree. “Let go of him – he has done nothing wrong!”

But Smous Petrus only had to drop the whip and extend his one hand to knock her to the ground, and Lindiwe landed with a thud, like a sack of flour. Immediately, Nosipho and Nelisiwe began to scream, tearing at their mother’s skirts. This was when I scrambled out from beneath the wagon and found myself confronting the red-faced man.

“Stop!” I shouted. “She’s one of ours. The boy, too. They’re not yours to beat.”

For a fleeting moment Smous Petrus looked as if he might strike out, and I braced myself.

“I’d mind my lip if I were you, meisie,” he growled, glowering at me with poached eyes. Then, as if he knew what would hurt me more than any physical blow, he added, “If your Pa were here, perhaps I wouldn’t have to do his dirty work for him.”

He turned on his heel before I could muster a reply, hitching his breeches up around his belly as he strode off into the tea tree bushes.
I suppose it is a fairly representative extract, because it touches on the tensions that frame much of Corlie’s experience: grief for her dead father, confusion and anger at prevailing Boer assumptions about the differences between blacks and whites, and frustration with her powerlessness in the rigid social context of wartime culture – both as a child and particularly as a girl.
Read more about Stones for My Father at the publisher's website, and visit Trilby Kent's Red Room Writer Profile.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue