Asma's Reviews > Agaat

Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk
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's review
Aug 02, 2011

it was amazing
Read in January, 2012

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 lull. How is the patient or character doing? Literally, caring for Grootmoedersdrift farm and for its ill people and animals is part of the setting. Those two protagonists do that extraordinarily well and intelligently, forming almost their own coterie. A favorite word of Milla is her moieties, oppositions within herself that constitute herself; so while carrying on the instructive and managing sides very well, her difficult marriage to Jak is not a model. Since the story is mostly told by Milla and is often about Agaat--in narration and diaries and in the Epilogue by Agaat whose version Milla's son Jakkie retells word for word--only a few men like Milla's father and the Dutch Reformed Church's dominee are pleasantly depicted. With a catalogue of details, the author/Milla recreates that part of the world under the heavens, all its moieties part of it.
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Quotes Asma Liked

Marlene Van Niekerk
“Everything is important. To the smallest insect, even the mouldering tree, the deepest stone in the drift.”
Marlene Van Niekerk, Agaat

Marlene Van Niekerk
“First smile!! An unseasonal little shower of rain fell here, and a lot of butterflies drowned, so we put them in the sun and they came back to life, and flew up and then Agaat SMILED!”
Marlene Van Niekerk, Agaat

Marlene Van Niekerk
“...a butterfly is like the soul of a person, it dries out in captivity.”
Marlene Van Niekerk, Agaat

Reading Progress

01/02/2012 page 79
13.0% "A paraplegic for eleven months, Milla tells about her life in 1960 and in 1947 as inheritor of Grootmoedersdrift farm while Agaat is nursing her."
01/03/2012 page 168
27.0% ""...there was a plashing in your ears, a poppling, your heart was open. Full and shiny, far and near. A waterfall. From the highest cliff a down-feather twirling on the foam, a little lily bobbing after the haze of your body, a patch of scarlet in black moss, a throat, a tongue, a gong in the dripping sparkling jet."--after Milla gives birth."
01/07/2012 page 261
41.0% "Originally translated "The Way of the Women"--Milla and Agaat--competent, creative, caring, commanding. Agaat--the Dutch word for agate (variegated quartz). The reader knows Agaat through Milla's descriptions from Agaat's coming to the South African farm as a young girl to thirty plus years later when Milla is in the process of dying."
01/08/2012 page 280
44.0% ""Heimwee" (Nostalgia/Homesickness): Afrikaans poem by J.R.L. van Bruggen set to music by Stephanus le Roux Marais and sung by Mimi Coertse, Stephen Harry Eyssen, and others. Pages around 277 bring forth artifacts (diaries, albums, deeds and certificates, silver and porcelain, etc) reminiscent of the life Milla lived (and of South Africa?) and suggest a scenario of Agaat and Jakkie after she dies in mid-1990s."
01/09/2012 page 302
48.0% "Agaat piles stuff from the farm and house in front of Milla but doesn't yet bring the maps. Question: how South Africa and Germany were related. Jak feels that Milla is playacting toward him in their marriage and is disrespectful of his abilities and accomplishments. His complaints about their marriage and her self-love gushes forth in a bitter tirade before he leaves the house."
55.0% "Jakkie and Agaat; Jakkie and Jak. Agaat's myths, songs, games. Jak's breakdown. Milla's pages of thoughts."
57.0% "The author keeps adding perspective on the novel's relationships. So, the reader can never assume that s/he has definitely defined the relationship between for example Milla and Jak. This part in the 1970s creates a disruption in the family when fifteen-year-old Jakkie on a home visit from a German boarding school brings back notions of social equality for Agaat. And, Milla has given Agaat ownership of a large herd."
61.0% "Agaat realizes that Milla is wanting the maps of the Overberg. The places on it are spelled out, bringing back memories to both women and driving Agaat to get tipsy. In a flashback to the 1970s, the 3 adults want claim to the son Jakkie's attention. The father Jak wants him to experience rugged sport like mountain climbing & to study math & science--activities Jak sees as useful to the man Jakkie will become."
64.0% "Questions arise about fires natural or set. Milla finalized her last will and testament. The blue-purple hydrangeas and other garden flowers will be part of the funeral. Agaat and Milla communicate with grammatical alphabet board and stick duster and with eye signals. Milla wonders, "I'm lying here brooding over all my life..." Does the broken neck of a lamb and the cut throat foreshadow the ending?"
69.0% "The novel turns back to the 1950s when Milla rescues an abused child."
90.0% "mid-1950s, Milla brings the deformed child Agaat to Gdrift "to make a human being of her, to give her something to live for, a house, opportunities, love"; versus 1990s, Milla's terminal, bedridden illness of four years--reciprocal caring for each other. Jakkie's birthday feast, its preparations, performance, and post-day orchestrated by Agaat. The color Red. Whetting song//Wedding song. Embroidered linen shroud."
100.0% "Why does Milla 'adopt' Agaat? Two versions of Agaat's 'adoption'--Milla's (545), Agaat's (569-575). Milla's bucking conventional advice to 'adopt' Agaat. "It's life that passes in the blinking of an eye. While dying itself can last for an eternity"--M's 4-year illness flickers out on 561. The shrine of M's bedroom. Jakkie's Epilogue tells A's version of her 'adoption', of her place after Jakkie's birth."

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue After my initial resistance to this novel, I'm finding I like and respect it more and more. I'm also enjoying the group discussion so much. I also like the quotes you've chosen. Thanks Asmah.

Asma Sue, I'm also enjoying the group discussion of Agaat @ Great African Reads. There's a quote(s) from the last chapters still to be added. It's likely I will go to the next book now. The sounds, faces, and rhymes Milla makes amazed me, especially when she's teaching Agaat to communicate; after all, music had earlier been important to her.

message 3: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Enjoy your next book. I'm taking a slower path through Agaat.

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