three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
By: 
Lisa Fugard
user_rating: 
0

A-Skinner'sDriftAfter a decade of self-imposed exile in New York, Eva van Rensburg returns to her native South Africa after hearing news of her Afrikaner father’s ill health. But South Africa in 1997 is radically different from the country she fled ten years earlier. In the isolation of the eponymous family farm, Eva faces up to her past with the aid of her late mother’s journal: the unabashed racism of her father Martin, her parents’ tumultuous marriage, her own shameful collaboration with the family servant, and the bloody conflict that spilled onto Skinner’s Drift across the border from Botswana. Under the shadow of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, Eva finds that the only way to deal with the memories she tried to escape is to confront them directly.
Scribner. 304 pages. $25. ISBN: 0743272994

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"What is evident is the influence of South African writers on [Fugard]. Fugard’s protagonists, like those of Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee, aren’t free of guilt, and it isn’t easy to forgive them." Laurel Maury

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"The only place where Fugard slips in Skinner’s Drift is in failing to reveal Eva’s secret in a dramatic and memorable way. Particularly after such a slow and careful layering of tensions, readers deserve an equally masterful unveiling that will leave them stunned and emotionally exhausted." Jennie A. Camp

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Fugard skillfully interweaves the perceptions of a large cast of characters to tell her family story, and beautifully reveals both the public and private roles her characters play." Allegra Goodman

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Balancing the vantage points of half a dozen characters with dexterity, Fugard keenly evokes a rough psychic and physical landscape in the years leading up to South Africa’s break with its past of racial apartheid and truculent economic inequality. … The basic goodness of the oppressed black characters … contrasts rather too tidily with the selfishness and moral blindness of the white settlers, particularly the repellent Martin." Misha Berson

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"The imperfect resolution to Fugard’s novel, unsatisfying and incomplete, is paradoxically part of the novel’s power. … Like South Africa itself, Eva’s redemption is, for Fugard, a tangled, extraordinary work in progress." Laura Ciolkowski

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"The strongest part of this sometimes uneven novel is its loving re-creation of the landscape, beautiful even in its drought-stricken awfulness, but its people and her relationship to them have sapped her energy and courage and left her with an almost insupportable level of rage and guilt. … The characters have some real trouble standing up to all this symbolism. It’s sometimes heavy going." Carolyn See

Christian Science Monitor 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The book has so many fine passages—butterflies of scenic lyricism that marry wonder and horror—that it’s a shame when the novel finally crumbles under the weight of one too many skeletons in the closet." Darryl Wellington

Critical Summary

Critics agree that Lisa Fugard knows how to paint a picture with prose. Her evocative language, put to good use as a travel writer for The New York Times, delivers a vibrant illustration of Skinner’s Drift and Fugard’s native South Africa. Beyond its descriptions, though, this ambitious first novel suffers from some uneven plotting and overly simplistic characterizations. Reviewers agree that the first two-thirds of the book contain "moments of true grace" (Christian Science Monitor). But the book peters out to an "imperfect resolution" (Chicago Tribune). While critics don’t call the novel an unbridled success, they praise Fugard’s talent (while connecting it to her father, South African playwright Athol Fugard) and admire her tackling of a tough, painful subject.