Written by Roger Smith — There’s something distasteful on nearly every page of this book as South African author Roger Smith paints the rainbow nation in blood, excrement and several other bodily fluids. Yet he does it in a manner that, while continually disturbing, also makes it hard to stop reading. His writing is unique; although he doesn’t use many South African phrases or Afrikaans words it’s taught, terse, vivid and direct. You can imagine a South African accent enunciating each whip-like lick of the plot.
In the first three pages there’s sex, murder, a chase and drug-use, and it carries on like this to the end. When a rich white man is murdered in Cape Town, his coloured mistress is a witness. She runs home to her husband and two kids. In short order the assassin is onto them, running them off the road. Her white husband, Robert Dell, survives but is framed for their murders and ends up in jail. His father Bobby Goodbread springs him- he’s also just out after years inside for leading a massacre while working for the apartheid regime. Once a CIA-sponsored covert opponent of the ANC, he’s now dying of lung cancer. Can he can redeem his past by helping Dell gain vengeance?
The murderer is also dying – of AIDS. He’s Inja Mazibuko, a Zulu warlord employed by a powerful and corrupt politician. Inja means dog in Zulu and I’m not sure a more horrible villain has ever been written. He wipes out whole families. He tries to rid himself of AIDS by raping then killing a toddler. But he fails to hunt down Dell and Goodbread. So he leaves the Cape going back north to his kraal. There he’s to marry a 16-year-old virgin called Sunday – witchdoctors have told him it will please the ancestors and cure his AIDS.
The final main character, Disaster Zondi, has lost his job with the Jo’berg police and heads back to the Zulu village hoping to rescue the girl from the wedding she’s been sold into. He might be her biological father, but he’s a rich playboy with a taste for white blondes.
Through the backgrounds and beliefs of the characters, Smith gives his own take on his country. While many South Africans want the ethnic and racial groups to work together, what’s inside these characters reveals why this is proving so hard. You have a white, middle class lefty who hates his right-wing, murderous father. There’s a young Zulu girl petrified of being forced to marry her tribal leader. Inja is a gangster who really believes coating himself in goats blood and smoking weed will protect him from the bullets of his enemies. Each stripe of Smith’s rainbow dislikes and distrusts the others. However what the characters lack is emotional depth. Their view of the world drives them more than any feeling. They don’t feel for each other much and wherever the a bond develops between two characters, one of them is usually killed.
But Smith’s story and writing are very compelling. I have roots in South Africa and relatives who have been victims of very serious crime – incidents that have come down to life and death. Still, wonderful things do happen in this country. In his fictional take on it, Smith captures the extreme wealth, extreme poverty and extreme thinking of some South Africans mighty well and draws them together to drive a combustive storyline. It’s hard to put down as page after page you hope some good will come out of all the bloodshed. Read Dust Devils and see if it does.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars