I find this a really remarkable book. Set against the background of Apartheid, this story is a deeply personal exploration of individuals caught up in the tides and currents of history; thrown together or divided, and the meeting of different worlds.
First, Linda Mannheim's prose is clear, well paced and uncluttered. She has a gift for picking out the single detail that can make an entire scene real for the reader. A few words about a rickety table or the uncomfortable gait of a bullying policeman bring an entire world to life. But perhaps even more importantly, Mannheim has an extraordinary grasp of the psychological terrain her story covers. This is the usually impenetrable terrain that stands between a person and "the other". The reader is calmly, and barely perceptibly, guided over bridges and across borders that initially seemed impassable.
The book deals with the divisions in South African society, and the psychological divisions that inevitably arise between those who have experienced extremes of oppression -- from social exclusion to torture -- and those who can barely begin to comprehend the existence of such horrors. Mannheim could easily have "fed" off the sensational nature of her subject to write a thriller. Instead, she begins by exploring divisions between people that basically everyone experiences many times every day, and which we have learned to overlook. Divisions between generations, between old school friends who only later realize they live in different worlds, the different worlds people inhabit when it comes to sexuality....
By the time the story emerges in the more extreme terrain of Apartheid's terrifyingly overt violence and oppression, Mannheim has already, and with great sensitivity, guided the reader through more familiar terrain closer to home. The reader has already learned to recognize borders and learned how to pass through them, and learned how to cross bridges. Without wanting to stretch the metaphor too far, some characters in the story act as bridges, some as border guards. But all, including the latter, are undeniably human, with human frailties.
But above all, I think many readers would find that they suddenly recognize the terrain that Mannheim explores so thoughtfully in the book, as their own.