About the book:
Against the backdrop of the bitter conflict of 1970s South Africa, Douglas develops a clearer insight into himself and his place in the world, a world where dreams and reality meet in a surprising twist. Blazing with color and light, Karoo Boy offers a sensuous and lyrical evocation of South Africa that leaves a lasting impression and ultimately ends on a note of hope.
About the author:
Troy Blacklaws was born in 1965 in South Africa, where he grew up. After studying English at Rhodes University, he spent two years in the army. He now teaches at the Singapore American School. Chris Martin of Coldplay called Karoo Boy "the most colourful book I have ever read". The novel is to be filmed in South Africa. Visit www.karooboy.com.
comes a striking, exceptionally well-rendered coming-of-age tale that is both exotic and familiar, funny and sad, political and personal, urban and rural. Set amid the cities, bush towns, and countryside of South Africa circa 1976-just when apartheid had started to unravel-Karoo Boy is as moving as it is memorable.
As the novel begins, fourteen-year-old Douglas Thomas and his twin brother Marsden live and surf happily in the Muizenberg section of Cape Town with their parents. But after Marsden dies in a freak cricket-match accident, Douglas and his mother, along with their maid and the family dog, pack up and move to the bush town of Klipdorp in South Africa”s remote Karoo region. His father, meanwhile, has disappeared, and Douglas enters adolescence all the more alienated, uncertain, and lost: His brother is dead; his father is missing; he is many miles from the ocean, has no friends, and does not fit in at school. Although friendly and articulate, he is a stranger in a strange land.
Life in the South African bush, as Douglas comes to learn, is marked by bleak landscapes, harsh customs, everyday violence, and-due to the climate of apartheid, -severe and constant racial tensions. Danger hangs in the dry air like dust; it covers all things, touches all souls. But there is still hope for Douglas in the presence of Marika, the earthy and adventuresome girl who immediately takes a liking to him, and Moses, the old man who works at a local gas station and-like Douglas-dreams of one day escaping to the seaside and driving to Cape Town.
Reflective, engaging, palpable, and genuine-and musically and colorfully told-Karoo Boy is that rare book about growing up that speaks directly and uniquely to readers of all ages. As one critic has noted, acknowledging the book”s ultravivid prose style: "The story is in the details in this first novel: the exquisite sense of place, the tender intimacy, and the casual cruelty, from murder to being forced to use separate utensils" (Booklist).
1. Book reviewers have been quick to acclaim this novel”s vivid language-descriptive, poetic, rhetorical, and otherwise. But what about its rich use of South African vocabulary? What words did you learn in reading this book? Define the following: braai, dumpie, bakkie, skollie, kaffir, dagga, khaya, moffie, dominee, songololo, tokoloshe, Jo”burg, and assegai.
2. The events of Karoo Boy are set in motion by a freak accident. How does this tragic mishap also trigger the narrative”s crucial theme of fate (or destiny)-as well as its equally prominent theme of exile (including self-exile)?
3. Reflect on the social dimensions depicted in Karoo Boy. What differences and distinctions exist for people of different races or skin colors? Do these divisions change when the story moves from the city to the country? How does this change Douglas”s when he leaves Cape Town for Klipdorp?
4. Animals play an important part in this narrative, from pets and insects to lizards and sea creatures to wild beasts and biology-class rabbits. Where-and why-are the various animals in Karoo Boy described or treated as human beings?
5. After moving to Klipdorp, Douglas unpacks a suitcase full of books in his new bedroom. Doing so, he comes across his father”s old copy of The Outsider by Albert Camus. Explain the notes that the boy”s father has written in its margins. How does Camus” book in particular compare and/or contrast with Troy Blacklaws” novel?
6. More than once during the narrative, Douglas looks at his reflection and sees not himself but the face of his dead twin brother. Discuss Karoo Boy as a meditation on identity, as a story about what comprises a person, and as an exploration of selfhood-and, for that matter, of twinhood.
7. In the "Bad Magic" chapter, Moses says to Douglas: "Years later, I saw that it was not the dog that was evil, but the man who taught the dog to hate." Explain how this remark applies to the novel as whole. What ironic point is Moses making here about the larger themes of Karoo Boy?
8. Look back at the elaborate coming-of-age ritual that Moses describes to Douglas, the journey that the old-timer had to undergo in order to become a man. How, if at all, does this journey echo the "in-between world" (as Moses puts it) that Douglas has come to inhabit?
9. Explain how and why Douglas”s emerging sexuality-his newfound sexual curiosity, his initial sexual activity-can often be traced back to his memories of his father.
10. Revisit the brief "Fluke" chapter, where Mrs. Thomas argues with the pastor from a local church. What do they argue about? Is their argument resolved? Explain how this argument might be seen-in the eyes of some readers-as a key argument of Karoo Boy itself.
11. The popular culture Douglas experiences-the books, music, movies, and so on-would be familiar to an American audience as well. Why is this? Discuss the Americanization of South Africa-and, indeed, of the wider world-as illustrated throughout Karoo Boy. In doing so, cite specific songs, items of clothing, films, etc. (And what is Radio 5? Where does it originate?)
12. One of the aspects of Karoo Boy that makes it seem fresh and real is the author”s distinctive and creative use of proper names. What are some of the names-of people, places, pets, etc.-that you, as a reader, liked best?
13. Karoo Boy has an eye-catching assortment of secondary characters, such as: Hope, Bessie Malan, Ou Piet Olifant, Oom Jan, Dirkie, Miss Foster, Marta, and Philip Skinner. Select a few of these characters and explain the small-yet-telling details that brought them to life for you.
14. A good deal of history informs this novel. At one point, for instance, Moses says of his homeland: "I come from the Transkei, Mandela”s land." Who does Moses refer to here? What did you learn from Karoo Boy about the politics and history of apartheid in 1970s South Africa? And about the Boer War, the Zulu-Xhosa conflict, and the Soweto riots?
15. What mystery is revealed or answered in this novel”s final pages? Is it really a mystery to begin with? Explain. Were you surprised by the book”s conclusion, or did clues prepare you for the ending?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Troy Blacklaws was born in 1965 in South Africa, where he g
rew up. After studying literature at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, he spent two years in the army. He now teaches at the International School of Frankfurt and Vienna and lives in Germany.