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Agaat

4.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  924 Ratings  ·  165 Reviews
Set in apartheid South Africa, Agaat portrays the unique relationship between Milla, a 67-year-old white woman, and her black maidservant turned caretaker, Agaat. Through flashbacks and diary entries, the reader learns about Milla's past. Life for white farmers in 1950s South Africa was full of promise — young and newly married, Milla raised a son and created her own farm ...more
Paperback, 630 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Tin House Books (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sue
Where to start with this book. I've never read a novel presented in this way before, told from so many points of view, with three of them being of the same person, Milla. In the novel's present we hear from Milla through her unspoken thoughts and wordless communication with the title character Agaat, her "adopted" daughter. Then Milla presents her past speaking through second person "you", a device at first off-putting, that ultimately works well. Then there are sections of stream of consciousne ...more
Gill
Jun 15, 2015 Gill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This was definitely a 5 star read for me. The writing in this book is exceptional.

I found it difficult to read for 3 reasons: 1/ the structure of each chapter is complicated, including diary entries, free thought stream of consciousness sections, the current thoughts and descriptions by Milla, Milla recounting events from earlier in her life. For the first few chapters I found I had to read at an incredibly slow pace. 2/ the subject matter ie Milla's paralysis and deterioration were at times ex
...more
James Murphy
Dec 07, 2011 James Murphy rated it it was amazing
We read a lot of novels. We pride ourselves on being discerning and selective readers, and for that reason we think most of them pretty good, both because we think them ambitious, finely and lyrically written, and populated with complex characters having to deal with the moral complexities of their world. They're all good, we think, but over time their value seems more even so that good or very good seems to level out. Occasionally, maybe a few times a year, a novel will astonish and impress to ...more
Clif Hostetler
Nov 12, 2011 Clif Hostetler rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: seasoned and patient readers
Shelves: novel
Reading this book is a spiritual experience, but not necessarily in a religious way. It's a reflection on a complicated and difficult life told from the point of view and memory of Milla who is experiencing slow death from a creeping paralysis (it's probably ALS).

With frequent use of stream of consciousness ramblings, short sentences, detailed lists and excruciatingly detailed descriptions of medical, farming and family activities, the reader is bombarded with a feeling of transcendence akin to
...more
Claire McAlpine
Milla is the only child of a farming family and set to inherit and work her own farm, she is poised to marry Jak as the book opens. The novel explores the growing tension in their relationship through Milla's diaries and the effect of Milla bringing a four year old girl from a troubled family, who has suffered prolonged abuse, into their childless marriage.

The books chapters alternate between the beginning of their life on the farm and the present, when the the girl Agaat, now a mature woman is
...more
Terri Jacobson
Jun 30, 2015 Terri Jacobson rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, africa, aab
Kamilla de Wet is a 67 year old white South African woman who is suffering from a progressive paralysis. Her mind is intact, and when the story opens, Milla can only move her eyes. Her caregiver is Agaat Lourier, a black South African woman who has been raised on Milla's farm since she was a young child. Agaat has to do everything for Milla, and they try to communicate through their eyes. Agaat takes scrupulous care of Milla, but there is an underlying anger that surrounds every move she makes. ...more
Katie
Jul 08, 2015 Katie rated it it was ok
This is one of those books that I wanted so much to like. I had many moments where I recognized how good of a book it was, but I just never really enjoyed reading it and I think the fault is mine.

Agaat takes place in South Africa and tells the story of a white woman, Milla, who has advanced ALS and is mostly paralyzed, and her black maid, Agaat. The complicated relationship between the two women is slowly revealed throughout the novel.

The narrative style can be quite difficult to digest, and wh
...more
Jenny Benn
Mar 07, 2013 Jenny Benn rated it it was amazing
Nothing short of a masterpiece. An Afrikaans woman on her death bed, mute and paralysed with a motor neuron disease (ALS), reflects on her relationship with her coloured servant Agaat, who is now nursing her. It is exquisitely written - the author has captured the nuances, depths and complexities of apartheid South Africa and the incredible physical beauty of the Western Cape with powerful and haunting prose.

It's a long and painful read, and I read it in between other books as it's too intense
...more
Beejay
Feb 07, 2012 Beejay added it
Shelves: good-beginnings
Oh, my,what a BIG book this one is - quite a challenge in itself to get through this plus a couple of others within the next month. This is the sort of book which, if you don't like it, would make a great door stopper.

How many stars to give a book which you almost gave up on after 300-odd pages, but are glad that you perservered with but which nevertheless causes you to lie awake at night? Even a star rating is difficult with this one. I can't say I "liked" it, but I thought it a mighty book, an
...more
Camilla
Jun 26, 2013 Camilla rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There's a tendency in the local literary community to over-value South African literature because it is South African. Bad reviews are rare and even the rare ones are light on the bad. Agaat is an English translation of an Afrikaans book, set on a farm in the province of the Western Cape. The book was translated with the author's input and won a local translation award.

Agaat is a very long book. Also heavy, but I read it on Kindle. This in two sentences could be a summary of my review. Of course
...more
Asma Fedosia
Feb 01, 2012 Asma Fedosia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The heroines Milla and Agaat, strong female characters, rise above societal expectations and practices in South Africa while affirming the good of its heritage and while celebrating and preserving its extraordinary varieties of nature. Four voices, many forms of writing from narrative to stream-of-consciousness prose poems, to realist details make this a literary work. Reading the story is like listening to its breathing or heartbeats, long passages suddenly rapidly paced followed by a brief lul ...more
Kkraemer
This book took FOREVER to read. It's the story of a woman in the last stages of ALS who is, of course, reviewing her life. She's not a nice person. Even her memories show her to be somewhat imperious and incapable of thinking (or caring) about the feelings of other people. Some of the book is told in present tense...what is happening as she lays there; other parts are told in retrospect, and there are some italicized parts that are streams of consciousness. I was frustrated by how slowly the boo ...more
Eileen
Aug 01, 2010 Eileen rated it it was amazing
This is not an entertaining book, and although it is beautifully written, it is also not a pleasant book to read. In picking apart the shattering effects of apartheid and racism on all involved, how could it be? The structure of the book - with considerable moving back and forth in time, and a very slow disclosure of the events that lead Agaat and Milla to the place they now are (Agaat tending a dying and paralyzed Milla, while interpreting her eye signals) - is extremely effective. This slow di ...more
Liselotte
Nov 12, 2012 Liselotte rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Misschien moet je moeder zijn, misschien een boerenkleindochter, misschien moet je in Zuid-Afrika wonen ... Of misschien moet je gewoon houden van een magistrale taal, verbluffende beelden, de vervlechting van micro- en macrogeschiedenis. Beste boek dat ik ooit gelezen heb.
Debbie
I don't think I will finish this.
Buchdoktor
Kamilla de Vet ist unheilbar an ALS (Amyotropher Lateralsklerose) erkrankt und hat nicht mehr lange zu leben. Der Sarg ist gekauft, das Grab schon ausgehoben. Die Patientin, in ihren erkrankten Körper eingeschlossen, kann selbst nur noch die Augenlider öffnen oder schließen und ist völlig auf ihre Pflegerin Agaat angewiesen. Millas einzig verbliebene Kraft ist ihre Vorstellungskraft. Ihr Sohn Jakkie ist bereits aus Kanada auf dem Weg nach Südafrika, um sich von seiner Mutter zu verabschieden. Di ...more
Jennifer D
oh boy.

i really don't know how to review this one. i suspect it is one that is going to sit with me for a long while and that my rating will likely increase over time, as i get further beyond the read. i liked it but, right now, i can't say i loved it. i felt too much was left dangling and that for the work of the read, i am left a bit unfulfilled.

the story is heartbreaking and unsettling. the style is interesting and effective. to a point. i think where i am feeling a bit lost with it all has t
...more
Marie Theron
Aug 02, 2011 Marie Theron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is beyond excellent, one has to read it to appreciate it. I read the English version translated by Michiel Heyns. To read this tome ,I first made an operation down the centre of the spine with a sharp blade. The two sides now sit nicely together on a shelf.



The story is related by Milla in three styles: normal narration from her deathbed where she tells about the present as well as the past, secondly through her early diaries and in the third place through her sometimes delirious stream-
...more
Lex Bijlsma
Mar 24, 2015 Lex Bijlsma rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Zoals je aan de commentaren in Goodreads kunt zien, vindt bijna iedereen dit een heel goed boek. Ik kan ook wel navoelen waarom, want de emotionele impact is op sommige plaatsen enorm. Maar uiteindelijk vind ik toch een aantal aspecten dermate irritant dat een hoog aantal sterren onterecht zou zijn. Bijvoorbeeld: (1) Het boek is veel te lang en vervalt verschrikkelijk in herhaling. Je zou zonder bezwaar 200 bladzijden uit het midden kunnen scheuren zonder daardoor iets essentieels te missen. (2) ...more
jordan
May 24, 2010 jordan rated it really liked it
A paralyzed Afrikaner woman, Milla, stricken with ALS that leaves her not only mute, but entirely dependent on her Black caretaker, Agaat. She reminisces about her life, her abusive marriage, and the son she loves. In the hands of a lesser writer Marlene van Niekerk's second novel, "Agaat." would surely have descended into saccharine melodrama. Instead, with poetic prose and a perfectly pitched narrative voice, Niekerk weaves a complex intimacy between these two women, whose lives have been inse ...more
Lori
ARC from publisher


I wasn't sure what to think when I decided to tackle this brick of a book at the beginning of the month, other than (1) It's not something I would normally read and (2) Oh Boy, this one is going to take awhile!

Tin House Books has been working hard promoting the pants off of this book, and rightly so. The author, South African native Marlene van Niekerk, creates the epic story of Milla - a 60+ year old white South African woman who is slowly dying of ALS - and her relationship w
...more
Hoimir
Feb 23, 2016 Hoimir rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Veel meer geduld voor nodig dan ik heb. Het is vast een mooie ontdekkingstocht, maar hemeltjelief, wat een trage vertelling. Na 15% en vele malen hervatten had ik er echt genoeg van.
Beverly
I would rate this book 3+

• This was a story about identity, gender, and of privilege. The story focuses on the two women and their relationship which each other – it was very much a manipulative and master/slave relationship. The white woman was also a victim within her culture and to me manipulated the black girl into who she wanted her to be – which was to “be human and white”. There are implications that being human and white are the same.
• I thought the author did a good job on using silence
...more
Pkalmans
Oct 12, 2011 Pkalmans rated it it was amazing
Perhaps one of the best books I've ever read. Van Niekerk is extremely skilled with developing her characters in a non-linear fashion, constantly changing voice, changing style, and changing chronology. Nothing is black and white in this novel, though everything is about blacks and whites in South Africa and their tortured relationships. Interestingly, the book was originally published in Afrikaans. It was later very skillfully translated into English with Van Niekerk's input, resulting in what ...more
Betty
Ik heb geaarzeld om 4 sterren te geven, maar ik moet toch toegeven dat ik dit boek met plezier gelezen heb. Bij aanvang had ik veel scepsis, maar die vloeide gaandeweg weg.
Misschien net iets te nadrukkelijk de cirkel rond willen maken, maar wel mooie taal en goed opgebouwd. Voor wie een trage roman apprecieert, voor wie eens wil kennis maken met het leven op een boerderij in Zuid Afrika tussen 1950 en 1995 ongeveer.
Interessant hoe een van de hoofdpersonages eigenlijk onbekend blijft.
Paul Fulcher
Jul 01, 2014 Paul Fulcher rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014
Agaat tells the story of the complex dynamics of a small South African farming family, Milla, who inherits a family farm, her husband Jak, Agaat, the neglected and abused young daughter of one of her mother's farmhands, who Milla adopts, and Milla's son Jakkie.

Milla is lying paralysed and dying of motor neurone disease, able only to blink her eyes but fully lucid, while Agaat cares for her, and the story is told through her thoughts, flashbacks and diary entries.

The novel packs in several differ
...more
Nicole Means
May 25, 2015 Nicole Means rated it it was amazing

Marlene Van Niekerk's novel, "Agaat," is quite a bold undertaking for both its experimental narrative style and its intimate, complicated look into a 40-year relationship between two women during the heart and end of apartheid. Van Niekerk is quite crafty at weaving suspense into the story leaving the reader craving more.

When we first encounter Milla, she is on her deathbed suffering from the effects of ALS, which has slowly rendered her speechless and motionless. Milla has spent most of her ad
...more
Glenn
A great character study about the complex "love/hate" relationship between a woman who rescues a young south African child named Agaat, bringing her out of an environment of malnutrition, neglect and sexual abuse.
Alice
Feb 15, 2009 Alice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An astonishing, dense and beautiful book. If Toni Morrison did South African farm epic set under apartheid.
Jenny
4.5
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Marlene van Niekerk is a South African author who is best known for her novel Triomf. Her graphic and controversial descriptions of a poor Afrikaner family in Johannesburg brought her to the forefront of a post-apartheid society, still struggling to come to terms with all the changes in South Africa. In translation by Leon de Kock, this book was critically acclaimed in the US and UK, and was film ...more
More about Marlene Van Niekerk...

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