7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant as always!,
This review is from: Kings Of The Water (Paperback)
This is Mark Behr's third book, and it is as beautiful as the other two. First, his much acclaimed "The Smell of Apples". Then "Embrace", a masterpiece, I have read it twice. Believe me if I say I rarely fall in love with a book to the point of reading it again.
"Embrace" is a magical book, it asks to be read twice. Just when you reach the end you feel the urge to start again. And I did it, to no regret. I mention this because "Kings of the Water" works the same magic (at least for me). I believe the explanation resides in the literary style Mark Behr employs. His way of writing leads you here and there in time and space. At the beginning, especially in "Embrace", it seems you're lost in a strange maze of episodes, at times completely unrelated to each other. However, these episodes are always well defined and complete in themselves. They are never disappointing, they never let you down. I might say they are like pieces of a jigsaw, but meaningful pieces, with complete sense. As you go on reading, the links between these episodes become clearer and clearer, and a bigger picture unfolds in front of you, opens out its wings, and becomes manifest. In the end you get the whole picture, completed in all its details. And what a picture it is!
For this reason I assume that the urge to jump from the last page to the first one, and start reading his books anew, is so compelling. You don't want to leave the dancing hall, you really want more of it.
Another forte of Mark Behr is his ability to depict the most common scenes of everyday life in such a way that they bring back to consciousness what we already have in our minds, maybe forgotten or willingly displaced, but still there. He plays the chords of our own experiences. As in his previous books, also in "Kings of the Water" he is both strict and humane, never self indulgent. There are memorable occurrences when this happens: the son helping his father having a bath, the dinner after the funeral, the boys chanting "We are the ...". Snaps etched in my memory for ever.
This book is at the same time rich and sparing. It seems that every word is there only if it has the right to be there, no redundancies are allowed, no boring descriptions. The pace is rigorous too, carefully tailored around each episode. At the same time, every scene is depicted to its minutest detail. This makes for almost photographic images to pop up in your mind. Images you won't forget easily.
"Kings of the Water" is a multi-layered book. It can be read as a simple story, as a pseudo autobiography, as a collection of aspects of a social and political picture of South Africa, and even as a kind of philosophical work. Maybe, this is his most difficult book, sometimes very challenging. Whatever the case, Mark Behr's pregnant style is enriching. The effort one puts in to understand this book is actually rewarding.
For those who have read his first two books, this one is, in some ways, a sequel. The characters are not the same, the story and the settings are quite different from the other two. But there are links, some thrown in on purpose, as tricks from a magician who kindly say thank you to his fans showing bits of his art. But some links are extremely feeble, "a boy fishing" for instance. Did you get it?
A note about the language for the ones who don't know Afrikaans. Mark Behr was criticised because, in "Embrace", he had written some sentences in Afrikaans, leaving the English speaking readers baffled by it (I wasn't, and I didn't know Afrikaans). In "Kings of the Water" he has also written some sentences in Afrikaans, but providing the English translation on the spot, embedded in the text. So, no problems there.
I don't want to add more, I believe this book deserves to be read by everyone. It is universal as it transcends the boundaries of the plot, a plot that can be seen as an excuse for a higher target. I truly recommend it.
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Initial post: 7 Mar 2010 17:01:08 GMT
Couldn't have said it better myself - in fact, nowhere near as well. You sum up everything I feel about this and the previous books. Thanks for a fantastic review (resisted reading it until I'd finished the book itself!).
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