x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Dubious Salvation of Jack V: A changing South Africa

Set towards the end of apartheid, The Dubious Salavation of Jack V shows readers a changing South Africa through the eyes of an 11-year-old as he struggles to make sense of religion, politics and prejudices.

The Dubious Salvation 
of Jack V
Jacques Strauss
Random House
Dh85
The Dubious Salvation of Jack V Jacques Strauss Random House Dh85

The son of an Afrikaans father and an English mother, Jack Viljee is just starting to become aware of racial and social inequalities in his sleepy suburban neighbourhood in Johannesburg.

Set towards the end of apartheid, we see a changing South Africa through the eyes of an 11-year-old as he struggles to make sense of religion, politics and prejudices.

Within his small world we see a microcosm of the country at large as it evolves. At the heart of the matter, Jack tells us, is a betrayal of his black maid Susie, who was like a "second mother" to him as he grew up.

In a laboured opening, he sets us up for his "childish but nevertheless devastating" act. And that's where the problem lies, in a structureless story that meanders along, occasionally harking back to this initial plot device, but never really going anywhere.

There are some touching character portrayals - the ever-chuckling Susie in particular is fondly depicted - and some poignant moments between her and Jack.

As a peek into race and class divides, black versus white, English versus Afrikaans, it is fascinating. But by the time Strauss actually gets around to telling us of his betrayal, it is hard to see how it merits the significance it is given.