Fiela’s Child by Dalene Mathee moved me as only a few books do. I’ve enclosed the snyopsis from Dalene Matthee’s website (though the author passed away in 2005) because once I’d read this, I knew I couldn’t summarize it better.
It’s a book that I was thinking about constantly when not reading, eager to get back and see the developments. The characters are beautifully drawn. Only one man in the book is all evil, though we see him as sympathetic for a few moments at the beginning of the story. A lost child, a found child– and all the lives entwined–create a memorable piece of South African lore.
Who can understand a person who knowingly hurts a child? It’s beyond my comprehension, and the story ripped my heart; however because of the love and commitment also given the child, there is hope, always hope.
I loved the view of the landscape of eastern edge of the Western Cape–the kloof (technically means ravine, therefore hilly farmable, grazable land), the deep forest near Knysna and Karatara that was heavily lumbered in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ostrich farming; the growth of the lumber industry; shipping; the seaport at Knysna, considered one of the most dangerous passageways in the world; all these historical aspsects of the area figure intimately into the texture of this plot. I loved understanding better the history of this area of South Africa I have grown to love so deeply. This delightful read leads to a better understanding of the history of the place that fostered Eden Campus which has become TSiBA Eden College in Karatara.
I added this book to my South Africa class reading list, partly because it’s simply such a good story; partly because it deals with a segment of history of the country I haven’t discussed in class before; but mostly because it’s set in and around Knysna and Karatara, where students will be visiting in May. Having a sense of this woods, this kloof, this seaport, over a hundred years ago, will make the visit all the more powerful.
THANK YOU, Genevieve Keene, for giving me this book at TSiBA Eden in Karatara this past July. I treasure the world it opened for me, as I treasure your friendship.
God forgives many things, but God never forgives us the wrong we do to a child.
On the one side of the mountain, in the Long Kloof, there’s Fiela Komoetie, devoted to her foundling – the child God entrusted to her one night when she found the three-year-old boy crying on her doorstep – a castaway lamb. On the other side of the mountain, in the Forest, there are the Van Rooyens. Many years ago, the three-year-old son of Elias van Rooyen, a woodcutter, and his wife Barta disappeared …
The one child is Benjamin Komoetie, the other Lukas van Rooyen. Are they the same child? Was it possible for such a small child to walk that far – from the Forest to the Long Kloof? Nine years later, two census men, travelling through the Long Kloof and discovering the white child with the blue eyes among Coloured people, decided to take matters into their own hands.
And many years later, this is the question that Benjamin/Lukas is asking himself: Who am I? He had to know, otherwise the woman that he came to love would never belong to him. The answer was there, he knew. Somewhere deep inside himself, hidden in the past, but the answer remained evasive.
Source: Dalene Matthee‘s website