Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard

Skinner's Drift
320 pages; Simon & Schuster
In her challenging first novel, Skinner's Drift (Scribner), Lisa Fugard digs into South Africa's recent transformation and excavates the pain and confusion that the end of apartheid brought to many lives, especially in the Afrikaner backwaters where her story is set. She employs some old narrative tricks to get the plot going—a prodigal child returning to see a dying father, a box of diaries that reveal the family's past—but she wraps them in such descriptive certainty (the heat, the smells, the hatreds, are all palpable here) that you are soon completely absorbed.

It is 1997, and the heroine of Skinner's Drift, Eva van Rensburg, has been away for ten years. She's hyperconscious of how the world's sense of her as a white South African has changed (flipping from "bad" to "good" as the political winds blew) but unclear about how she fits into the new landscape (at the hotel bar the night she arrives back in South Africa, the seductive barman unhinges her: "Would she have been so flustered if a black American had come on to her? Of course not. It was being back in the country where, just a decade ago, a black man would never have flirted with her that had shaken her confidence").

As the story of her isolated childhood unfurls, we learn that Eva has always been an outsider: the daughter of an Englishwoman in the land of the Boers; of a stuttering, violent father whose worst crime Eva has kept secret for years. Eva's journey home coincides with her country's Truth and Reconciliation hearings. Just as her long-suffering nation finds the courage to face the horrors in its past, so Eva reaches a shaky forgiveness of her own. It's that spirit of compassion and commitment to telling it straight that truly enlightens this passionate book.
— Elana Henderson Richardson