13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 27 March 2005
I was seduced into reading Barbara Trapido for the first time by this autobiography-turned-novel about growing up in South Africa in the 1950s, the child of a German mother and Dutch-Jewish academic father.
This is fundamentally different from her earlier, lighter, novels I have now read. The politics of South Africa is so bizarre, she has no reason to rely on her usual juxtaposition of strange cause and effect, fatal coincidence and melodramatic characterisation. All she has to do, to create her well-practised sense of absurd but successful juggling, is to place the extreme politics of the time alongside the ordinary dramas of a girl growing up. People in custody are "suddenly beginning to manage fatal accidents... on the stairs, taking tumbles from upstairs windows". "Dinah's response ... is to join the madrigal group".
Reading this book helped me understand the recent history of South Africa better and what it felt like to live through a time when shocking events have become routine. The images are so strong it is almost as if there is a camera there. It all rings true, even though it benefits from hindsight. The character and her family are in that society but not quite of it. Her parents had dragged themselves out of Europe to escape all that, and their attitude towards Boers, she makes clear, is at first essentially snobbish. But for Barbara's generation, the only way was out - the trek to London is the inevitable end of this novel.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2004
In Frankie and Stankie, Barbara Trapido continues a trend for dark subject material, first glimpsed in The Travelling Horn Player.
This is the story of Dinah, growing up in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. Living with liberal parents, she experiences apartheid with growing disgust, but nevertheless does not allow it to interfere with the importance of a first boyfriend, doing well in exams and finding best friends.
Frankie and Stankie is a marvellous book. Trapido's trademark light touch is wonderfully on display as characters, both average and extraordinary are brought to life beautifully. But underlying her usual vignettes is the history of South Africa. For those who know little about the country this is a fantastic introduction to exactly what the Boer War was, to the way in which the British and Afrikaans battled for supremacy, and the attempts to undermine the regime of apartheid.
Frankie and Stankie draws no simple conclusions, and does not lay all blame solely at one person's door. It attempts to document a past (albeit from a clear personal standpoint), and does so excellently.
This is a wonderful book, and I would heartily recommend it.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Like the first couple of books in the 'Martha Quest' 'Children of Violence' series, this book covers the childhood, adolescence and early womanhood of a white girl growing up in the era of apartheid (Trapido's South Africa for Lessing's as it then was 'Rhodesia')
Both books explore the awful waste of humanity and human potential which apartheid brought - and how it crushed and stultified its proponents, even those who championed and upheld its tenets - as well as its devastating effect on the non-white population.
Both books also explore what it means to be a girl child, and to grow into womanhood in that community, and at that time, before feminist ideas had become more mainstream.
Lessing is much darker, mythic and visceral, whereas Trapido's wit, inventiveness and almost Dorothy Parker like acidity turns the same mixture into something much funnier - though equally as heartfelt, serious and truthful. She captures brilliantly the power and pleasure of schoolgirl friendships.
And i admired her ability to instruct in some of the complications of South African politics of the era without falling into the trap of 'delivering lectures' or using clumsy devices to give her readers a historical perspective - you know the sort of devices where one character will instruct or lecture to another character some crucial pieces of infomation, and you know this is only there because you, the reader, may not know the information and the writer needs YOU, not the other character, to know this!
In fact, Trapido did this all so well that I really can't remember exactly how she managed it - which means it worked splendidly and seamlessly!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful - partly autobiographical, I think - account of growing up in South Africa after World War II. Dinah and her older sister Lisa are the children of European immigrants to South Africa. Their father is a Dutch mathematic professor, their mother a German, who came to South Africa with her family to escape the Nazis. Dinah and Lisa's parents are enlightened, and abhore the racism around them, causing Dinah to have far more insight into her troubled country than many children from her age and background. The novel follows Dinah from her early childhood to her schooldays, time at university, meeting and falling in love with a young Jewish socialist, Sam, and their heartbreaking decision to leave a country which is now in the throes of apartheid at its most violent. The novel also touches on the life of Lisa - though she somewhat fades into the background as she grows older - and Trapido supplies some fascinating information about Dinah's parents and how they came to settle in South Africa. The historical setting of the novel is brilliant - Trapido tells us a lot about South Africa as a country while never lecturing us. And her account of Dinah's gradual maturing from quiet, bookish girl, a dab hand at arts and crafts, to thoughtful student with a political conscience is wholly convincing. Trapido's love of the race of cat shows through too, to my great pleasure - there were several fine cats in the novel, particularly in the final section, and the end of the last chapter is very heartwarming indeed. The only problem this book might possibly have - and it's always a problem with novels dealing with a life from childhood to adulthood - is that Trapido spends so much time on Dinah's childhood that the later stages (her years at university and her move with Sam to England) feel a little rushed. I would have liked a bit more about how Dinah and Sam settled in London and their lives there, and maybe a bit more about Dinah's studies at university. But this is a tiny point in a novel that's completely addictive reading - a real treasure-trove, full of good things.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 5 July 2005
Our reading group were generally enthusiastic about Frankie and Stankie, and most of us had enjoyed reading it. Comments like 'really lovely' 'entertaining' and 'so witty' flew about the room as we settled into a more detailed discussion. There was consensus that the terrifically dry style and the humour in the story, the pace at which it moved, and the subtle interweaving of stories made this a book was liked. The way it managed to entwine the entertaining and witty vignettes of family life with the more serious issues around the political changes taking place was cleverly done, although one of us would have liked to have had more emphasis on the political. Some of us though weren't keen on the way it meandered about without more structure and plot, and sometimes found that there were too many names and characters being introduced making it hard to keep track of what was happening to whom.
We thought that the title, the picture and descriptions on the cover were misleading, suggesting that the book was about Dinah and Lisa, whereas although Lisa figured strongly at the beginning, it was clearly Dinah's story. The way in which some characters fizzled out as the story progressed we found irritating too, as we wanted to know what happened to their lives too. But realised that this was in some ways realistic as seen from Dinah's point of view, and as we grow up the importance of different people in our lives - both family and friends -changes. The ending too was disappointing. We felt it would have ended better at the moment Dinah left South Africa, and that the 'Afterword' didn't sit comfortably with the rest of the book.
Even though few of us knew much detail of the history of events in South Africa, the story easily carried you along informing and explaining on the way. We felt the child's view of changes in South Africa created a wonderful understatement of big events, which was very effective in putting across the context of the story. It was an interesting account of living as a child and teenager in South Africa during the 50's and 60s, and some of us identified with the childhood experiences Barbara Trapido describes, which seemed to resonate with growing up in 50's England
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2003
There's always the worry with a favorite author that their new books won't match their predecessors and this is worse when, as with Barbara Trapido, there is a five year gap between them. However, Frankie and Stankie was a delight from start to (all too quick) finish. It's full of the humour, charm, intelligence and pathos one expects in Barbara Trapido's books but with an additional and new political element. The experiences of growing up are set against the increasing inhumanity and racism of apartheid and one can feel the anger and frustration about such a state. In fact, it's got everything you could want in a book! I just hope the next one isn't five years away.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2009
I was recommended Barbara Trapido books, and this was the only one I could find. I susect like me, many people are put off by the terrible title. However, it is a very good read, a novel about growing up in South Africa during the years of apartite. If, like me, you know relatively little about South Africa, you will find this informative as well as enjoyable.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2012
I am not a frequent novel reader therefore I had not heard of Barbara Trapido therefore I was keen to get stuck in to reading this book. Trapido's novel Frankie and Stankie is about the story of a young South-African girl called Dina and her little sister Lisa and their upbringing in the 1950's. The book exposes real callous attitudes towards black people throughout, Dina's family never agreed with these arrogances as she was growing up, consequently Dina transformed into a bright university student, took off to meet lifelong friends and blissfully married a man called Sam and moved to London with him.
Similar to the author herself, she was born in South Africa during the apartheid. The book is historically informative about the racial inequality in South Africa in the 1950's, though Racism is still a sensitive topic to talk about, Trapido's approach inspires and edifies by means of her own life experiences and the sombre subject of racism is lightened by wielding soft humour. Besides this, I was intrigued by Trapido's expressive and imaginative writing style where I was immersed into Dina's world through sensuous details "Angel-face by this time is a healthy, smiley, auburn-haired cherub with four pearly incisors, two up, two down who gurgles and bounces ..." These parts of the novel were so compelling, Trapido knew how to create imagery in one's head. However I do believe this style of writing would be more appreciated by an adult audience as it was reminiscent rather than a narrative whereas before reading the book I was expecting a plot, climax etc.
The book was difficult to appreciate at the beginning as the lead up to imperative events in the book were quite mind-numbing and longwinded however eventually Dina's life journey became quite touching; it was like a witty history lesson. Though it felt at times the `story' wasn't going anywhere but crammed with endless description, at other times I was fully engaged and fascinated by Dina's dainty anecdotes and the totally controversial world she was brought up in. Growing up in London myself where racism was evidently present when I was at a young age, towards the end of the book was the part I found most interesting this was because I felt highly relatable with Dina who was a thin, weedy girl who had grown into a well educated woman.
Overall the book is jokey, enlightening and some parts are enthralling, Trapido captivates us in the cultural history around Dina's world. As far as a fictional book I think it is more directed for an older audience than university students unless they were highly interested in the apartheid and the ongoing struggles of black people in South Africa, because I think this book covers that well. Much more appealing than picking up a text book titled, for example `History of Africa in the 1950's', wouldn't you rather something titled `Frankie and Stankie'? I know I would.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 2005
Over the years, I have read most of Barbara Trapido's books and for me, Frankie and Stankie is the best yet. (Though I didn't like the title.)
Only one niggle: Trapido writes that Dinah will meet Sam's father sooner than expected...but she doesn't seem to do so.
That aside, I thought the book was brilliant and I learnt a lot about South Africa while reading it. I would even compare it with reading some of the Children of Violence sequence of novels by Doris Lessing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2011
Having read the reviews at Amazon before reading this book I was hugely disappointed. It is not only my opinion but that of my reading group. Barbara Trapido has written some beautiful descriptions but the amount of detail totally overwhelmed me. I was determined to finish the book but it was hard going and to be frank I got bored.I would not recommend this book and probably will not read another one by Barbara Trapido.