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Circles in a Forest

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,466 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
The Knysna Forest: a primal world of strange beauty and hidden dangers, of secrets shrouded beneath the canopy of towering trees, where, for centuries, the only sounds were the songs of birds and the trumpeting of the magnificent elephants.... until man arrived to claim for himself the rare wood of the trees, and the rarer ivory of the elephants' tusks.
Hardcover, 305 pages
Published September 12th 1984 by Knopf (first published 1984)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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May 09, 2008 Ilze rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Besides the intricate human relationships one reads about in this book (which I would rate one up from Fiela's Child), one also gets to know African elephants and - most important of all - trees. If anything, one comes to realize what an absolute tragedy it is that trees are being stripped from this earth at a tremendous rate, and once they're down, there is nothing you can do to get them as tall and as beautiful again.

For those not living in South Africa, us South Africans are facing a major tr
R.L. Anderson
Mar 19, 2012 R.L. Anderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great foreign language book, which a friend in South Africa sent me, to practice reading Afrikaans and, at the same time, learn something of the history and culture of the Afrikaners, or Boers. It is a powerful story set in 19th century South Africa. I found it very interesting and educational in learning the language and gaining an insight into this great culture and a country which I hope to visit someday. If you don't know Afrikaans, that's no reason not to read and enjoy this book, as it's ...more
Jul 02, 2011 Shadi rated it it was amazing
Dalene Matthee has an incredible way of describing life in the Forest in South Africa in the 19th century (read also Fiela's Child)! I got sucked in with all the detail, I felt like I was living there. Although it was set over 100 years ago, many of the stories are relevant today. Not to mention the whole theme of struggle with one's self, others, nature, change, reality, myth, ... etc. Like others who have reviewed this book, I found it a little slow to start but later I did not want the story ...more
This affricaans language author from South Africa is excellent! Her works have obviously been translated into English, making her accessible not only to non-affricaans speakers in SA, but to the world anglophone community. Her stories are well told - I highly recommend this particular story, about the coming of age of a young man who wants to connect with the world beyond the enclosed forest and its families of the Knysna region along the south coast of SA. Wonderful!!
Nov 25, 2014 Chrisl rated it it was amazing
Wish I had not given away my copy. Definitely re-read class. One of those places and times on earth I would like to have experienced.
This wiki article certainly could benefit from some indigenous people's perspective, or even that of the lowest class whites depicted by Matthee.
Mar 30, 2011 Marlene rated it really liked it
Read it in the original Afrikaans, of course. Haven't read the English translation yet so can't speak for that. But the original book is haunting, stayed with me, even years later. The descriptions of the Knysna forest and the people living there, were done with love and caring eyes.
Saul Barnard comes from a long line of woodcutters in the Knysna forest of South Africa. Only Saul is different...he begins to question some of the lore and is accused of having his head in the clouds. He realizes what all the cutting is doing to the future of the forest, and he gets wise to the unscrupulous dealings of the wood-buyers in the village. But trying to make his family and relatives aware of what's happening labels him as a traitor. He wants to fight to save the forest and the eleph ...more
Zoe Zuniga
May 17, 2010 Zoe Zuniga rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Zoe by: self
This is yet another gorgeously crafted book by Dalene Matthe. Her characters are so believable because she is able to show every detail of how it feels to grow up in the forest. It took me a minute to orient myself to the era and the place which were foreign to me. But with her incredible descriptions and dialog I became a 19th century dutch wood cutter living in the forest in South Africa. I feel as if I know the forest inch by inch.

Her book describes the class struggle and the ecological disas
Anette Lenk
Mar 27, 2013 Anette Lenk rated it it was amazing
A wonderful piece of work, Dalene wove her whole story through the use of go from one to another and then the whole completion of the beginning forms another circle at the end of the book. She has done thorough research and although the book is translated from Afrikaans it reads as if English was the original language. The story is about the Knysna forest in the Cape, South Africa. It tells the story of the forest people and the elephants and how they interact with each other. It ...more
Lorraine Sears
Mar 11, 2014 Lorraine Sears rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely beautiful story about one man’s relationship with the forest, and how, no matter the times he tries to leave, he can never escape it.

Saul Barnard was born a woodcutter, raised by his father all he knew was forest life. But when he begins to see the devastation being reaped upon the forest as the developing world demands wood for wagons, wood for railroads and wood for homes and furniture, it stokes a fire in him that cannot be put out; not even when it destroys his relationships wi
Graham Botha
Oct 07, 2012 Graham Botha rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all ages and both sexes
Probably one of the best books I have read, Dalene Matthee produced a book that, at times, has the beauty of Dickens yet the simple but elegant style of Steinbeck. A moving story written by a talented South African author. There are so many levels at which the reader can enjoy this little gem. I would like to read the Afrikaans version as the few lines of Afrikaans she writes are exquisite. I will definitely look for more of her books.
Hierdie boek was my eerste kennismaking met Dalene Mathee wat my al haar boeke laat koop het.
Sy het net 'n aanslag wat nie geëwenaar kan word nie, alhoewel sy as mentor opgetree het vir Annelie Botes. Dalene se "Kringe in 'n Bos" is 'n boek wat 'n mens gryp en nie los nie. Misterieus, werklik, histories korrek, geloofbaar in alle opsigte. Sy ken haar onderwerp. Haar vroeë dood was 'n groot slag vir die Afrikaanse leserswereld.
Feb 13, 2014 Riana rated it really liked it
Saul Barnard is born as a woodcutter’s sun in the enormous Knysna forest. Cutting and selling wood, growing sweet potatoes and keeping watch for the bigfeet are all they know. Living with just enough to get by, and nothing more. At a young age, Saul realizes that he doesn’t think the same as all the other woodcutters. Further, he seems to have a strange bond with Old Foot, the King of the forest elephants. He comes to know and face his painful but necessary fate: “Saul Barnard walks alone.”

Maggie Luck
Oct 05, 2011 Maggie Luck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book once back in 1986 while I was walking through the forests where this takes place. I then read it again in 2008. The magic of the book is in the setting - colonial days in a forest on the southern tip of Africa where the elephants hide.
Steve Mayberry
May 19, 2015 Steve Mayberry rated it did not like it
So completely awful. I have to assume that the high ratings are for the Afrikaans version, which might not have all the anachronisms -- like a mid-19th century woodcutter describing himself as "shell-shocked" -- or the comically wooden dialog.

The biggest flaw has nothing to do with translation, though: Mathee villifies the racism of English versus Dutch, without even acknowledging the broader context of racism that would become Apartheid. There is one significant black character, who serves as c
Morné Louw
Jun 16, 2013 Morné Louw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another gripping story by Dalene Matthee. However, reading Fiela Se Kind first might have given one more insight as to the times in which these people lived. But it's wonderfully balanced between Saul Barnard trying to find Oupoot and then switching back to his childhood and young adulthood story, from running away from home and meeting the beautiful Kate MacDonald to later becoming his own man and not standing for all the crap (excuse the word) MacDonald made him feel. We follow him on his, som ...more
Lisa Picard
Sep 15, 2015 Lisa Picard rated it it was amazing
A beautifully-written and compelling story set in the beloved forests of my home. This is an old book but definitely worth a read. The author beautifully captures the harsh lives and challenges faced by the woodcutters living in the forests of South Africa's Garden Route.
Zanrik Steenkamp
Uitstaande gebruik van simboliek. Die deurlopende tema van kringe wat onderskeidelik die hede en die verlede aanmekaar bind tot 'n sikliese eenheid, is meesterlik voltrek en is dus 'n onontbeerlike leserservaring vir die Afrikaanse fynproewer.
Tuesday's Child
Aug 16, 2014 Tuesday's Child rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an awesome read. It is such a huge part of South Africa , you would be hard pressed to find a South African that hasn't read it. I adore elephants, and this book revolves around them.
Ido Hadanny
Aug 30, 2015 Ido Hadanny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
עוד המלצה של תמר השכנה.
העברית הארכאית מוסיפה מאד לסיפור ההתבגרות הקצת מוכר. מאד אהבתי את ההקפות שעושה עלילת הספר סביב שאול וזקן-רגל אחיו, ואת תיאורי היער שעושים חשק לאפריקה
Jackie G Mills
Sep 30, 2014 Jackie G Mills rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was on of my favourite books growing up. We studied it as part of the school curriculum. Throughout the years it has remained dear to me and can still bring me to tears.
Janine Weyer
Aug 25, 2014 Janine Weyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've forgotten how traumatically beautiful this story is. The second read ... probably 15 or 16 years after the first read, was so much more enriching.
Christian Crowley
The description of a vanishing world of the forest, along with the plants, animals and people who inhabited it, is my favorite part of this book. The contrast between the classes and language groups is also fascinating.

My pen-pal from South Africa sent me the Afrikaans and English versions of this book, and I sent her a variety of books on Native Americans. Reading the two versions in parallel, along with a copy of Teach Yourself Afrikaans and Colloquial Afrikaans, I was able to get the hang of
Jan 05, 2015 Gaylin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read the English version. An old copy I found on the bookshelf. Beautiful book.
Beautiful, especially the Afrikaans version
Aug 16, 2014 Nina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Geniet dit elke keer weer van voor af!
Apr 06, 2015 Mikaela rated it it was amazing
depressingly beautiful!
Bronwyn Pound
Jan 13, 2014 Bronwyn Pound rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book in high school, and absolutely loved it. Not sure if there is an English translation out there - not sure how good it would be either. I am sure it is worth a try if you do not read Afrikaans though.
Sep 16, 2012 Tracey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I went to South Africa to visit a very dear friend of mine several years ago. Saw many "faces" of the beautiful country - it was amazing. One instance in particular with a beautiful elephant will forever be in my mind. This book showed me another "face" of South Africa about the Knysna forest and the special bond with Old Foot. The story of Saul grips your heart & makes you want to get on a plane immediately after reading it to see this forest.
Jun 09, 2016 Filjan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got this not long after it first came out. Tried to read it but gave up as it didn't grab me at all.

Recently tried again and have so enjoyed reading it. I suppose it helps to have a South African background, but it works anyway as a powerful evocation of a time and place, the Knysna Forest of the late nineteenth century.

A great book.
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Dalene Matthee (nee Scott) matriculated in 1957 and went on to study music at a conservatorium in Oudtshoorn as well as at the Holy Cross Covent in Graaff-Reinet.

Before gaining fame and wide acclaim for her first "forest novel", she also wrote stories for magazines as well as two popular novels - ’n Huis vir Nadia (A House for Nadia) (1982) and Petronella van Aarde, burgemeester (Petronella van Aa
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