So I’ve been a bit of a fan of the writer Damian Barr for a while – from his social media and also from The Big Scottish Book Club, a TV programme in which he interviews the biggest names in books from across Scotland, the UK and beyond. But I hadn’t read any of his actual books until now. Hence I jumped at the chance when I was offered the opportunity to read and review Damian’s debut novel You Will Be Safe Here to publicise it’s recent paperback publication.
Now, as well as being a fan of Damian Barr, I also have a deep respect for him as a writer. You Will Be Safe Here is courageous and powerful – not just because it is such a bold story in its own right, but also because Barr’s prose is so stark and uncomfortable. Furthermore, the skilful structure of the novel enhances its power, subtly interweaving the second Boer War with post-apartheid South Africa.
You Will Be Safe Here is the story of Sarah van der Watt and her young son Fred who are transported to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp in 1901 following British soldiers burning their family farm to the ground. This is during the second Boer War (1899-1902), and as Barr points out in his historical note at the end of this novel the Boer Wars are ‘now almost fondly remembered as a great Victorian adventure.’ In this brutal, poignant novel, Sarah and her son portray the thousands of Boer women and children who were sent to camps for their ‘own safety and at great expense‘ to the British. What they experience is definitely not what I would consider a great adventure.
It is also the story of Willem, who was born during the 1994 general election that elected Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa. The symbolism surrounding the date of Willem’s birth is so powerful. As Willem grows up he is often regarded as an outsider and called derogatory names. With his mother wanting to solve his ‘difference’ in society, at the age of 16 he sent to the New Dawn Safari Camp where he’s told ‘it’ll sort you out‘ as the camp ‘make men out of boys.’
For me You Will Be Safe Here is a truly unforgettable novel. I’m not going to shy away from it, I found it deeply uncomfortable too. Especially as I learnt of the cold brutality of the British military during the Boer War and the legacy of that brutality that has shaped South Africa since. This still haunts the country today. It has been days since I finished this novel and I still can’t stop thinking about it. But that’s the true power of this book – it is seeped in emotional intelligence, thought provoking and haunting.
This is a novel that educated me, it also made me cry, frightened me but it definitely warmed my heart too. This is a book that needs to be read.
For me to be given the opportunity to review You Will Be Safe Here to help publicise it is a true privilege.
You Will Be Safe Here was released in paperback on 2nd April so it is available for you now to purchase and read.
Thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to this blog tour. To follow the tour please see below.