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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Dawn of Apartheid: Power of the Sword by Wilbur Smith

I discovered Wilbur Smith by chance. The public library just happened to have Triumph of the Sun in audiobook and I just happened to find it when desperate for something to listen to during commute time. Since then I've been looking for his titles.

Smith's chosen genre is one I guess I'd label "historical adventure." He follows the Courtney family's generations through different periods of history, but always somewhere in Africa, so far as I can tell. Some of his novels strike me as sagas while others, like this one, might be described as "epics." For some reason Africa has always fascinated me, and the continent comes alive through Smith's skillful prose.

This novel's setting is South Africa, from the early days of the Great Depression up to the beginning of Apartheid. I've long considered Wilbur Smith an armchair social anthropologist, and it may not be as evident in the characters of this book, but he certainly gave every last one of them some serious much so that it's difficult for me to decide who the hero is. I guess I'd have to name Centaine Courtney as the heroine. She may be an adulterous, ruthless capitalist opportunist who destroys those who get in the way of her ambitions with no remorse, but the author bothers to show sympathetic traits in her perhaps more than any other character.

She seems like a choir girl compared to ganglord/political organizer Moses Gama; his half-brother Swart Hendrick; Centaine's bastard son Manfred, who grows up to become a fanatical Nazi; or even her ostensibly legitimate son, Shasa, who grows up to be a pampered, womanizing, shallow fop. I think my sympathies lied mostly with Lothar De La Rey, father of bastard Manfred.

At the very beginning of this tale, Lothar has just gambled all he has on a fishing business and through cunning and determination, has just brought in a haul that will pay all his debts and put him on firm footing to build an inheritance for Manfred. That's when Centaine shows up to utterly wreck him and his business. She has bought up his debt and now prefers to let his fish rot in the cargo holds than to let him can them and use the profits to get in the black. She has bad blood for her former lover and it's about to cause a vicious cycle.

Lothar decides that an eye for an eye is in order, and plans a robbery of Centaine's diamond mine. It's a clever and detailed plan, actually, with multiple safeguards...all rendered moot by fate, Centaine's tenacity, and, most of all, Lothar's fits of mercy. It goes downhill from there, and I must admit I skimmed a bit when I got too disgusted with the characters. Not just the deceit of Moses or his revolting behavior; or the corruption of the weak-minded Swart Hendrick; but also the gullibility and stupidity of the book-smart Manfred. And what he does to the girl who sincerely loves him. Of course my disgust is probably testament to the author's masterful orchestration of the elements of fiction.

Half brothers Shasa and Manfred are on a collision course that has ramifications well beyond the looming global conflict. When they do come full circle, their meeting was rather disappointing for my taste. Still, even at his worst (?), Wilbur Smith is a master storyteller, and despite my issues with this book, it's rich with South African history, geography and cultural insights. And for those who like family dynasty drama on an epic scale, this book is dripping with it.


  1. I might have to go find this one at some point...

  2. Actually, you could do a lot worse than any Wilbur Smith novel. They're all set in Africa, rich with geographic detail. Pretty decent action, and just plain good writing. Triumph of the Sun centers around the siege of Khartoum. A Time to Kill is about a former merc who is now a guide for big game hunters. While he's taking an old friend (and his nubile daughter) after a legendary bull elephant, he encounters an old enemy at the border from his soldiering days. Said enemy runs his own army, now, and is acquiring a fleet of Hind gunships...

  3. So "A Time to Kill" is the one to look for...

  4. It might be a good place for you to start. Just a word of warning though: Smith gets a little carried away when he give's the elephant's history--probably want to skim that part.


    All the while, the Arab world and the Muslim world are the largest practitioners of racial and religious apartheid. Where not one minority has equal rights with the governing power. Not to mention the still-practiced racist slavery on Asians and on blacks by Arabs. And the ethnic cleansing by the Arab world including by anti-Christian, anti-Jewish Arab-Islamic-Apartheid-Palestine. To quote from books: The Islamic world "the world's largest practitioner of both religious and gender apartheid." [Israel: And the Palestinian Nightmare - Page 158 - Ze'ev Shemer - 2010 - 244 pages] "The Islamic culture of "religious intolerance, economic backwardness, gender apartheid, muzzled press, militarism, terrorism." [A theory of international terrorism: understanding Islamic militancy - Page 153 - L. Ali Khan - 2006 - 371 pages] The "antisemitism of the Arab world and the Muslim world." The racist "long history of oppression against minorities in Arab countries." [U.S. news & world report: Volume 131, Issues 8-18 - U.S. News Pub. Corp., 2001 - Page 120] ["Beware Palestinian apartheid," 'Op-ed: Palestinian leader Abbas seeks to adopt racist policy based on ethnic cleansing of Jews.' Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, Ynet, 08.04.10] [The Real Apartheid State, by David Bedein, 2011]

  6. Not that I disagree (I've been pretty outspoken about Islam elsewhere), but I gotta wonder if this is from a spambot, since it's not that relevant to my post.


Spammers go home (and get a life)!.

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