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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The horrors of aparthied
Set in South Africa in the mid 1970s, and narrated by Marnus Erasmus, the eleven year old son of the well connected and politically influential Afrikaner General Erasmus and his now retired opera singer wife Leonora, the story gives real insight into how one's background and upbringing facilitate firmly held ideals and beliefs.

The Erasmus family plays host to...
Published on 11 Jan 2007 by Benjamin

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Very evocative
This story is seen through the eyes of Marnus, a boy growing up in South Africa under apartheid, in a rich, white, conservative family. The novel demonstrates very well how attitudes are passed on and the way they are maintained. Whilst Marcus is a sensitive boy - one wonders whether he may be growing up gay - it's the sexuality of his father which turns out to be more...
Published on 12 Oct 2008 by P. Greenhalgh


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The horrors of aparthied, 11 Jan 2007
By 
Benjamin (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Smell Of Apples (Paperback)
Set in South Africa in the mid 1970s, and narrated by Marnus Erasmus, the eleven year old son of the well connected and politically influential Afrikaner General Erasmus and his now retired opera singer wife Leonora, the story gives real insight into how one's background and upbringing facilitate firmly held ideals and beliefs.

The Erasmus family plays host to a Mr Smith, the alias given to a visiting undercover Chilean General who sympathises with the Afrikaners' views. Through their interaction with Mr Smith, with their attitude toward their Coloured servants and their behaviour toward the Blacks, we get a very good impression of the Afrikaners' proud belief in their own superiority; however shocking such views may seem today.

But the beauty of the story is in the telling through the eyes of the eleven year old Marnus. Behr convincingly conveys the activities, expressions and innocence of youth, despite the perverted indoctrinated beliefs. His friendship with is class mate Frikkie, something of a bully and problem child at school; and his spiteful relationship with his older sister Ilse are well portrayed. Particularly endearing is the relationship he enjoys with his parents and his undoubted love and respect for them; a love than can even overcome the horrifying discovery Manus makes towards the end involving his father.

Interspersed with the current narrative is an ongoing account from the twenty four year old lieutenant Manus as he serves on the war front.

A beautifully written and revealing account, Behr succeeds in presenting an appealing view of a year in a family's life despite their horrifying attitudes and beliefs.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult subject matter beautifully written, 28 Dec 2007
This review is from: The Smell Of Apples (Paperback)
It is difficult to see how this can be Mark Behrs first novel. 'The smell of apples' is beautifully accomplished peace of writing. You are drawn in to the protagonist's life 'Marnus' without the safety blanket of easy assumptions. There is no easily identifiable 'Good' or 'Bad' to help us with the order of things. Just a deep sense of uneasiness. A candid truth. That all of us no matter how kind, generous or sincere we try to be are capable of the most brutal acts imaginable.

Some people may find the racism as portrayed difficult and disturbing. I found it just right. As a Muslim I often see the easy acceptance of racism within my community. It becomes natural and weaves itself to everyday conversation and actions. Embedding sometimes the most offensive and nasty ideology into small children. The words 'Kaffir' used to describe blacks in the book is actually a word in Arabic meaning infidels. Still used frequently by Muslims as a slur against others.

The book as per 'The Emperor's clothes' shows us through the eyes of the child the blatant hypocrisies adults are blind to.

You can see through the ideology at people desperately trying to hold on to their privileged lives by the subjugation of others.

What was most fascinating about the book is in the way it refuses to let you hate those you should. This is a reflection on Mark Behrs writing and skill. It is through Marnus you get an inking of a particular Afrikaner mind set which few books can master.

A must read!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, sometimes horrifying - beautifully written, 3 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Smell Of Apples (Paperback)
An atmospheric, involving story told by Marnus, a boy growing up in an Afrikaans family in the early 70s, with flashes forward to his time fighting in the Angolan war. His family of four and best friend are his world until the arrival of Mr Smith from Chile, whose presence in the house must be kept secret. The book's quiet style makes unforgettably clear the suppressed anger, fear and pain that fill and surround the family and the Afrikaans culture.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and provocative work, 6 Jun 2005
This review is from: The Smell Of Apples (Paperback)
This story of an apparantly idyllic Afrikaaner childhood delicately evokes both the beauty of innocence and the horror of its destruction. Through the eyes of a young child, Marnus, the author slowly uncovers the evils of apartheid society and demonstrates the manner in which this society is poisoning itself. In a world that appears safe; protective and protected, nothing is quite what it seems and the novel becomes a journey for Marnus as his ideals and values are attacked at their very foundations. The author effectively conveys the innocence of a child through a deceivingly simplistic narrative. Behr addresses the sins of the past and locates their awful legacy in the present. Through Marnus' awakening he demonstrates the past's ability to hold the future to ransom and his vision is a fractured picture of hope and despair for the new South Africa.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Very evocative, 12 Oct 2008
By 
P. Greenhalgh (Surrey, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Smell Of Apples (Paperback)
This story is seen through the eyes of Marnus, a boy growing up in South Africa under apartheid, in a rich, white, conservative family. The novel demonstrates very well how attitudes are passed on and the way they are maintained. Whilst Marcus is a sensitive boy - one wonders whether he may be growing up gay - it's the sexuality of his father which turns out to be more surprising. Very evocatively written.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A claustrophobic evocation of family secrecy and indoctrination, 26 April 2014
By 
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Smell Of Apples (Paperback)
The book was first written in Afrikaans in 1993 and published in the author’s own English translation in 1995. The main story is set in South Africa in the 1970s and describes the family life of the narrator, 10-year old Marnus Erasmus; a second story is told by the narrator some 15 years later when he is fighting Cubans and African guerrillas in Angola. This ambitious debut novel examines apartheid through a single family who left East Africa in the run-up to independence, leaving all their hard-earned commercial and financial wealth behind them, and settled in Cape Town.

Marnus’ father, Johan, is a general who is proud of his Afrikaner heritage, his mother used to be an opera singer and now teachers a few selected students and Ilse, his elder sister, is academically gifted, is in the running to become head girl of her school but, after a visit to Holland, now has an external perspective on the country, its leaders and political system.

The central event in the story of young Marnus is the visit of ‘Mr Smith’ to the family home. He is from Chile and Marnus’ father has warned his family not to tell anyone about the visitor. The only other significant character is Marnus’ friend, Frikkie Delport, less academically gifted, who spends weekends with the family.

The book’s title refers to the smell of boxes of apples that Marnus remembers from a childhood journey with his father and the fact that when apples rot their smell changes. It also relates to violent actions that affect each character to differing extents. The family’s world is quite simply black and white – the whites having created all the wealth and the blacks, untrustworthy and lacking any ability to rule themselves.

In his translation, Behr has captured beautifully the voice of the young Marnus, at first an innocent hero-worshipper of his father and later very confused when those closest to him behave in a manner that the both the church and his parents have taught him is wrong. Much of what Marnus says is just a repeat of what older people say which emphasis the degree of his indoctrination.

The book shows constantly how much the Afrikaners have rewritten their history that is so central to their existence – as his father puts it: ‘A Volk that forgets its history is like a man without a memory’. Similarly, a schoolmaster tells a pupil, who has told how his great-grandfather charged hunters a fee to shoot Bushmen on his farm, that ‘it wasn't the Boers that killed off all the Bushmen, it was the Xhosas.’ This constant manipulation of the past to justify actions of the present make it almost impossible for people to know the truth, unless they have an opportunity to leave the country and gain a different perspective, as Ilse has done. The lack of humanity of Marnus’ father is best shown when the family, Frikkie and Mr Smith settle down to hear the general’s enthusiastic commentary on a slide show of his bloody military forays.

Looking in at the family, that appears to be serene and unspoiled, the reader sees Marnus imprisoned by his father’s rigid attitude and his mother’s dutiful readiness to back her husband in whatever he says - a reflection of the paternalistic creed of the Afrikaners. ‘Mum loves jazz - but Dad disapproves. So Mum plays her jazz tapes only in her car. As Mum says: 'We all have our little secrets.' In the course of the novel, Marnus becomes aware of the secrets of the adult characters, but at such a young age there is little that he can do and no-one that he can open his heart to.

When Little- Neville, the 10-year-old Coloured young son of the Erasmus family’s maid, Doreen, is accused of stealing charcoal and punished, Inge and her mother show sympathy, but it is not mentioned by the general. For him, life is simple, ‘Dad says one of the problems is that all the best blacks were taken away by the slave merchants. The blood that was left in Africa was the blood of the dumber blacks - that's why you won't find an educated black anywhere’. The attitude toward Coloureds is no better ‘they're mostly alcoholics who booze up all their wages over weekends’.

The connection between the two stories is Marnus’ interest in the military, through his father and his own interest in military history and uniforms that results in a prizewinning school essay, to his volunteering and ending up fighting in Angola. Nothing can tarnish Marnus’ admiration of his father’s way of life. This is a short but powerful book that deservedly won a number of literary prizes in the UK, USA and South Africa.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Monosyllable city, 5 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Smell Of Apples (Paperback)
The trouble with a child's-eye view is that in addition to a child's mindset, which can be illuminating, you get a child's vocabulary. Yes, there are 'grown-up' passages, but mostly this is like listening to a prepubescent - you'd be better off with Emil and the Detectives
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The Smell Of Apples
The Smell Of Apples by Prof Mark Behr (Paperback - 4 April 1996)
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