The Expedition to the Baobab Tree: A Novel
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Learning to survive in the harsh interior of Southern Africa, a former slave seeks shelter in the hollow of a baobab tree. For the first time since she was a young girl her time is her own, her body is her own, her thoughts are her own. In solitude, she is finally able to reflect on her own existence and its meaning, bringing her a semblance of inner peace. Scenes from her former life shuttle through her mind: how owner after owner assaulted her, and how each of her babies were taken away as soon as they were weaned, their futures left to her imagination. We are the sole witnesses to her history: her capture as a child, her tortured days in a harbor city on the eastern coast as a servant, her journey with her last owner and protector, her flight, and the kaleidoscopic world of her baobab tree. Wilma Stockenström's profound work of narrative fiction, translated by Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee, is a rare, haunting exploration of enslavement and freedom.
pebbles rattle around in their tremendous bellies all their lives, rattle and rattle. Whatever is incomprehensibly huge I reduced to the ridiculous to be able to assimilate it and prove my power over it, while I knelt comically curled up behind stone and reed, a slug without a shell, a soft-shelled beetle as big as the top of my little finger, anxiously in sham death, waiting for the long drawn-out gambols to come to an end so that I could again stand up like a human being and look around. A last
without control and kicked, and how foam had come from his mouth, and how he had then grown still, glorious again after the brief mad interlude that had helped him from life to death, again in death as perfect and untouched as he had been in life, a youth who was contained in himself, I reckon, and in his self-absorbed charm had never experienced either sincere friendship or sworn enmity. I counted up what I stood to lose by his death and what I stood to gain. For the umpteenth time my future
again. The day after my benefactor’s death, when I, soggy with love and confused, had gone in search of the stranger, then too the fear was with me, and it was fear and longing that propelled me forward; and uncertainty, the only certainty I could always count on, led me to streets where mold made the walls break out in multicolored sores and the gates hung askew and rotten and I recognized a building, I recognized some of the slaves who went in and out there with baskets on their backs. It was
fidgety; but then out of pity I let him be and by watching I understood what his hand was grasping for. He was trying to tear the fine web that death was spinning around him. When he jerked in spasms the web vibrated and shimmered slyly in anticipation. Tighter and tighter it was spun around him, so that the threat of sounds outside the room could not penetrate and the murmur of people with concern or concerns remained far outside the ring of his death stillness. I let the invalid nestle between
talk about it. It was wasted time. For I was becoming possessed with myself. Now for the first time I discovered beauty, my own and that of bunches of flowers, and of soapstone statuettes and jade clasps and porcelain glaze, and of batiks dyed with indigo, and of lovely silk, light as a breath or heavy and stiff and interwoven with gold. It was almost as if I were learning again to talk. I occupied myself in refined tasks like complicated embroidery, which was taught to me by older slave women,