Finding Soutbek by Karen Jennings

book cover for Finding Soutbek
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The focal point of the novel is the small town of Soutbek. Its troubles, hardships and corruption, but also its kindness, strong community and friendships, are introduced to us in a series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships. Contemporary Soutbek is still a divided town - the upper town destitute, and the lower town rich, largely ignorant - and through a series of vivid scenes, the troubled relationship between Pieter Fortuin, the town's first coloured mayor, and his wife Anna is revealed. In so many ways the past casts a long shadow over the present, not in the least through the unreliable diaries of Pieter Meerman promoted by Pieter Fortuin and Professor Pearson, a retired white historian. They give us a unique insight into the lives of the seventeenth-century Dutch explorers, and hint at a utopian society, suggesting that Soutbek is the birthplace of assimilation and integration. The blossoming friendship between Anna, Sara, a foundling, and Willem, Pieter Fortuin's nephew, is unsettled by David, Anna's and Pieter's son. His father has bought David a bright future, but when he comes back from boarding school David appears alienated from his father and from his old friend, the former gardener Charles Geduld, just as Anna starts to accept him as her son. Is there hope, or are we left with Willem's conclusion that 'he would spend the rest of his life working off the debt of his family's poverty'? A moving story that paints a thought-provoking picture of life in contemporary South Africa.