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Fiela's Child


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Fiela's child has two identities and two lives. He is Benjamin Fiela, a white foundling raised from age three to twelve by a black family, farmers in the Long Kloof region of South Africa. But he also becomes Lukas Van Rooyen, son of a poor white couple in the Knysna forest, who reclaim him by identifying him as the long-lost child who had strayed from their home. This beautifully written, moving novel dramatizes Benjamin/Lukas's search for his self: his growing love for Nina Van Rooyen, the girl who may be his sister; and his complex relationship with two women and two men who claim him as their son. Less complex but more powerful than Matthee's Circles in a Forest ( LJ 10/15/84), this historical novel, set in the 1860s and 1870s, is highly recommended for African and fiction collections. Peter Sabor, English Dept., Queen's Univ., Ontario

Fiela Kimoetie cares deeply for the elements in her lifethe farm she owns (no small source of pride for a black South African), her sick husband, once so beautiful, and their children. Of these last, her white child, Benjamin, who wandered into her life at the age of three, is dearest, because there may come a time when he is taken from her. Fiela is prepared to fight if that happens, but her strength doesn't prevail on the day the census-takers discover Benjamin, now 12, and remove him from the open loveliness of the Long Kloof into the confining forest, where a shiftless couple whose son wandered off nine years before lay claim to him. He never accepts the transition of identity from Benjamin to Lukas, nor from Fiela to the woman he is told to call Ma, any more than Fiela accepts his absence, and his feet keep seeking the Long Kloof, where his spirit was free to rise. Benjamin's escape, its involvements and consequences, bring the story to a close in a way perhaps not so persuasive as its beginning; but readers will carry away from Matthee's (Circles in a Forest tale a profound sympathy and affection for Benjamin and Fiela. (May 5)

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