Huge in scope and ultimately deeply moving.,
This review is from: Embrace (Paperback)
This has to be one of my all time favourite books and was the cause of many sore eyed sleepless nights on first reading and a book that I have returned to many times since. The book tells the story of Karl De Man a 13 year old Afrikaaner boy from a relatively modest and socially conservative background (his father is a game ranger) who wins a place at the world famous Drakensburg Choir School in the 1970s. There he not only falls deeply in love with Dominic, an openly gay son of liberal doctors and a musical prodigy and also his choir master who he sets out to seduce. The problem for Karl is that despite his youthful lust he is torn apart by a sense of what he is doing is wrong and sinful.This is shown in not only his constant denial of his sexuality (much to the disgust or Dominic) and his contempt for his somewhat arty cousin. Karl's reinforced by the school when we learn later that Karl and his friends had been brutally punished by the school for sexual experimentation in the dormitory.
The relationships do not ultimately lead to fulfillment and the end of the book is extremely moving. However it is the other themes that the book deals with that provide equal interest. Karl becomes detached from his family as he gets more wrapped up in the world of privilege enjoyed by his much wealthier class mates and ends up looking down on his family. He is also torn apart in his political beliefs, fighting his ingrained racism internally as Dominic, who is a passionate and active liberal at the school, tried to convince him how irrational his beliefs are on race and homosexuality. We are also shown how quickly one can fall from grace even amongst the established class when Karl is visited at the school by his uncle who is a homeless itinerant who has been disowned by the family. The reader later learns that Crazy Uncle Klaas was a former Law Professor who resigned his post and left everything behind and took to the road as it was the only way he could be with his black gay partner.
This is a book that apart from anything else shows the deep contradictions and injustice of Apartheid and the confused logic of many an Afrikaaner: on the one hand so devout and hospitable and on the other so racist and bigoted. It is a book that grabs your attention from the first page and sweeps you into the life of Karl. You live his life with him, feel his emotions, suffer his sense of loss. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.