Saturday, 26 January 2008

Salt & Honey


When I’d finished Salt & Honey (and I read it over a day and a night – it was too enthralling to put down) I felt as though I’d read a huge saga of epic proportions. And yet it is little more than 200 pages long. Somehow, in the short space between page 1 and page 218, Candi Miller contrived to transport me into a vast world of enormous beauty, terrible horrors and, for me at least, discovery on many levels.

In southern Africa, in the 1960s, when Apartheid divided and ruled, a young girl from the Khosian tribe of the Kalahari witnesses the brutal murder of her parents, and is taken away from the desert, an orphan. Salt & Honey tells Koba’s journey, from her childhood before her fatal encounter with white hunters, to her survival in exile and her relationship with the white family who protect her – Marta (whose anti-Apartheid sympathies set her apart from her neighbours), her alcoholic husband Deon, and her son Mannie, who slowly becomes Koba’s friend.

Miller’s extensive research brings depth and an authentic sensory eloquence to the narrative. The Afrikaner voices and the sounds of Koba’s San language are pitch-perfect – we can hear them as clearly as if this were an audio-book. Sound, and smells, too – smells I’ve never experienced, but now I have a vivid sense of them. Language, mysticism, tribal history, South African politics – it’s all here, yet it’s offered with such a lightness of touch that one is swept up by it emotionally, rather than feeling lectured at. And at the heart of it all lies the wonderful character of Koba – an unforgettable heroine, unlike any I’d encountered before. This is the tale of her endurance and survival – spiritually as well as physically – but it’s also a coming-of-age story and a love story. So much, in so short a novel - I'm still amazed by its Tardis-like deceptiveness!

It’s really quite overwhelming. I’d recommend this to anyone, of any age, outlook or persuasion. Hats off to the legendary Legend Press for publishing it and I wish it every success in the World Book Day Books to Talk About competition. (Voting is closed now.) It would be a worthy winner. If it doesn’t make the shortlist (to be announced on 4 Feb), there is no justice in this world.

4 comments:

info said...

Thanks Juliet, we'll keep you posted about the World Book Day Award...exciting stuff!

Emma (Legend Press)

Juliet said...

Thanks Emma - I wish it luck, and good luck to you, too, in your new job (also very exciting, by the sound of it!)

Logophile said...

After buying this based on your review it's now made it into the top 10 of books to talk about!
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/02/what_goes_into_a_book_to_talk.html
Which must be a good sign! Can't wait for it to arrive...

Juliet said...

Logophile - yes, I just noticed this this afternoon. (Have been immersed in non-stop work and forgot to go and check earlier.) It's excellent news - though if it HADN'T made it to the shortlist I'd have been amazed (and furious!)