“ Paperback: 692 pages / Publisher: Penguin / Published: 2 Aug 2007 „
'Whitethorn' by Bryce Courtney
I have read a few of Bryce Courtney's books; some were based in his country of birth, South Africa and others are based in Australia where he now lives. I have to be honest and say that I do prefer the ones based in South Africa as they seem to have more true emotion and the character are more real but that is just my personal feeling. My favourite books being 'The Power of One' and 'Tandia both of these are based in South Africa. His novels that I have read apart from this one that are set in Australia or based in Australian history include 'The Potato Factory' and, 'Tommo & Hawk' both set around the convict settlement days as Australian history as we know it began.
This novel is set n South Africa and was published in 2005.The story tells the story of a young boy Tom Fitzsaxby and at the same time it is sort of the story of South Africa beginning just before the outbreak of WWII and through to pre-apartheid isolation of South Africa.
Although the blurb on the back cover is a little misleading as it starts by mentioning the WWII and South Africa's decision to join the allies against Germany. The book in fact does not really delve into the war very much although news is mentioned it certainly isn't a major part of the story. Many Boers are not happy about siding with the British as they feel a strong hatred for the English because of the way Boers were treated by the British during the Boer Wars with many flung into concentration camps where twenty-six thousand women and children died.
It is the Boer War that defines relationships in this novel and causes many Afrikaners to sympathise with the Nazis. Although the novel begins in 1939, it follows Tom through to the 1960s, to apartheid and resistance to it by many in South Africa.
The hero of the novel is young Tom Fitzsaxby whose English name alone is enough to select him for some pretty harsh treatment whilst in 'The Boy's Farm', a Boer run orphanage with some pretty horrific ideas as to how to treat young children.
Tom is an outsider from the start of the novel; he is an orphan and later is informed by the staff of the Boy's Farm that he is in fact a bastard, a term he has to spend some time finding out the meaning of. Friendships are not encouraged and indeed the boys are pitted against each other and punished harshly for misdemeanours of others but no one will ever tell tales and they just accept the beatings as a way of life.
Tom has only two friends at this orphanage, one is a Zulu man who tends the pigs and the other is a puppy called tinker that he found in a sack in a river. Mattress, the Zulu helps Tom look after the pup by giving her to a sow until she is weaned.
If anyone has read 'The Power of One' this story has some similarities in that Tom is an outsider, there are references to boxing, good does win over evil in the end and there are definite anti racist elements to the story as racial injustices are many and in fact Tom is focused on putting one major injustice right throughout the entire novel.
I really liked the way Courtney told the story through Tom's voice and at the start of the novel he is only seven so his interpretation is that of a seven year old and his voice is that way too. By the end if the book Tom is a successful educated young man and his voice has changed completely and during the book the change had been gradual which i thought was very clever.
The story is like many others just a re write of a standard tale that of a lonely outsider who is saved and wins through because of his intellect, decent character and love of books .However I do think Courtney has managed to bring the element of real story teller to this one. I love the way he uses Afrikaans words and you can almost hear the strong South African 'accent' throughout the book.
.I also like the way Tom simply describes the actions of others and doesn't make moral judgments. He speaks it as he sees it and there are many pretty horrific things he sees at a very young age and the way he casually tells of the cruelties he encounters and suffers makes them all the more shocking to us as readers from our more liberal age.
I am not quite sure why the Kenyan Mau Mau element was added to Tom's story but maybe just to set the time and add a bit of a love interest.
I enjoyed the book and thought that this was almost as good as 'Power of One ' and 'Tandia' and a lot better than the 'Persimmon tree' but it did however have an element of the latter in that Tom was a little like 'Forrest Gump' in than he was there when so many historical events happened and he attended institutions that were fairly prestigious considering his unlikely start in life. He is also a little too perfect for my personal taste, I want him to lose his temper and go for someone or to reject helping someone who had personally been horrible to him yet he never does.
Tom has one main aim in life and and that is to get justice for his childhood friend and even though the ending is pretty predictable it is more the way the story is told and the pictures created that make this much more than just an average 'boys own' tale of adventure.
I enjoyed this and found it a very easy read that I was keen to get back to each night ( I only read in bed before going to sleep) but my husband loved it and really rated it. He likes slightly different books from me usually; his detective novels which leave me cold but I knew he would enjoy this as he likes an easy read with a good story and is less concerned about reality in characters and believability in a story.
If you like an easy read with likeable, if not totally realistic characters as well as some pretty horrible ones too then this is a great story of good triumphing over evil. The book is very readable and at times is really gripping, it has many elements from horrific almost Victorian orphanage descriptions through to War and training of soldiers, copper mining and more as well as elements of shocking living on the streets, sprinkled with humour love for dogs and loyalty to true friends. It is a real mix with something for everyone and I have a feeling it may well become a film just as "Power of One" did.
Hope this review will be of interest to some. This may be published on other sites under my same user name.