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The Smell of Apples

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  1,105 ratings  ·  100 reviews
Set in the bitter twilight of apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s, The Smell of Apples is a haunting story narrated by eleven-year-old Marnus Erasmus, who records the social turmoil and racial oppression that are destroying his own land. Using his family as a microcosm of the corroding society at large, Marnus tells a troubling tale of a childhood corrupted, of unexpect ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published March 15th 1997 by Picador (first published 1993)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,105 ratings  ·  100 reviews

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Oct 08, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
Ahhh... the dénouement! Defined by Wikipedia it is
a series of events that follow the climax of a drama or narrative, and thus serves as the conclusion of the story ... from the Old French word denoer, "to untie", and from nodus, Latin for "knot." Simply put, dénouement is the unraveling or untying of the complexities of a plot.

Sounds easy, but why then is there such a problem with just this aspect of so many novels, and this one is no exception.

It is the story of Marnus, a pre-adolescent Afrikan
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of Marnus, a young Afrikaaner boy growing up in South Africa during the Apartheid years. It is a moving account of his childhood experiences and of his interactions with the world around him. 'The Smell of Apples' was a enjoyable read but also an insightful one. The way Aparteid touches Marnus'life defines his attitude and relationships with others. His family live a privileged life but there seems to be the underlying, ever-present threat that everything they and their forebea ...more
Kathryn in FL

I found this tale at a yard sale or thrift store at least a decade ago and it kept me at full attention throughout the pages. The key figure, Marnus is currently an adult serving as a soldier in Angola in 1988. While I don't recall why he is reminiscing about his past, it does lend insight into the broader storyline. As a young adolescent, he reveres his father, a military man, who is respected though he comes to realize is not necessarily admired. Life seems safe and protected for Marnus. H
Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is about a young boy growing up Afrikaan during the 1970s South African apartheid era in a fairly privileged family with an authoritative father. The child narrator was a great move here by Mark Behr because even though I did not agree with the views of the narrator, I was able to see things from that point of view. Very descriptive prose in some places, great use of dialogue to showcase character flaw. Though the book really did not talk about apartheid as I thought it would, it discu ...more
Nicole Gervasio
So, I'll admit: I totally misread this novel the first time, and I carried that misreading into a graduate class this fall (five years after my first read) and ended up liking it far less once my classmates clued me in on the fact that I was blind/a moron. Since my misreading won't actually be a spoiler, I'll tell you what I'd remembered happening: I'd thought the General had gotten with Marnus's father, not another adult (to tell you this would be the spoiler). To me, this knowledge helped make ...more
Jan 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a striking book about South Africa in the 1970s with a consideration of the harrowing legacy of this period. Whether or not they agree with it, most students of colonial/post-colonial literature are familiar with Frederic Jameson's controversial thesis made in 1986 that all third-world literature is national allegory. Personally, I think that because an author loses control of his work once a reader picks it up to read, it is difficult to come to a conclusive decision such as this one. ...more
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Written over 20 years ago, I think this is still a deeply troubling novel. I rate highly the way Mark Behr slowly peels away the seeming innocence and security of an 11-year-old Afrikaans boy from an apparently respectable conservative home, while interweaving reports from the young man years later as a soldier on the Angolan border.
The patriarchy of this nuclear family starts to be challenged by the teenage daughter; the presence of a house guest on mysterious political business also helps to
Anna Chrysostomou
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
As a Grade 12 student in South Africa, I was obligated to read a South African novel of my choice, in compliance with our syllabus. Although it sounds terribly unpatriotic of me, I don't care much for South African literature. Although I am proud of my country and its population, I feel little connection to its history (perhaps because my parents only arrived here from Cyprus and Romania in 1992); this country's history is plagued by propagandistic and imperialist foreign powers who exploited th ...more
Aug 17, 2017 rated it liked it
On some level I enjoyed this book for the most part - It was well written with the voice of the narrator as a 10 year old feeling authentic and believable. Most of the political and moral values made very uncomfortable reading but it was made understandable how they were passed down through generations through their own perception of history, however one sided that might have been (and a degree of religious fervour - plenty of hell and damnation available to those who cross the lines).

For all th
Feb 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
I have to revise some of my previous remarks and rating of this novel as I proceed to write my paper. While there is not much in way of stylistic beauty (perhaps the most significant attribute for me in reading a novel), I think that it is acute in its observations of the way that the family and nation place heteronormative policing pressures on an individual, our poor 11-year old Marnus.

I would love to spend more time thinking about how it utilizes Moby Dick as an intertext. It's definitely us
Nov 07, 2009 rated it liked it
i liked this about a boy growing up in an afrikaans christian household in the 1970's in south Africa . the story is told in one long chapter with interspersed passages describing the boy as a grown up soldier fighting the guerillas in Angola where he dies .

clearly the family are decent people trying to maintain their way of life against the oncoming changes when apartheid is dismantled and i really enjoyed the intricacies of family life and the boy's blood brother friendship and his relationshi
Mar 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book is all over the place. It is set in apartheid South Africa and written from the perspective of a young boy, but then there are these little flash-forwards interspersed throughout of the young boy as a grown man and a soldier at war. That doesn't sound like such a terrible idea, but all it does is make the story feel even more disjointed. In addition to this obvious slapped on message to the reader that war is hell, you will also discover that racism is insidious, parents are tragically ...more
David Fick
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This contemporary South African classic is a short read that stays with you for a long time. Set against the backdrop of apartheid, a man fighting in the South African army looks back at a summer in his youth as he tries to make sense of his disillusionment with a life that has always appeared perfect to him, but which is rotten at its very core. Knowing about the specific contexts of the book helps, but ultimately this novel's universal message about how what is instilled in us as children play ...more
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, africa, 1990s
The Smell of Apples. Evocative of summer days, sunny fields, and a fruit that's great eaten out of hand or chopped up and presented in a pie or salad. It does not bring to mind the last decades of apartheid, the cruelty of evil men, or a child discovering the worst parts of human nature. Mark Behr's novel follows the life of a privileged, white 11-year-old boy named Marnus Erasmus in 1970s South Africa. Marnus and his best friend, Frikkie, are keenly aware of the sharp racial divides in their co ...more
Emilie Hoffmann
This book was a very quick read, only about 200 pages, and it is set in early 70'ties South Africa. I decided to read the book because I have a big school assigment coming up and I thought I might analyze this novel and wrtite about SA and Apartheid in English and history. I'm not sure I'm gonna do that. Don't get me wrong there were some things I liked about the book and I don't regret reading it (it was very pretty short, but I just don't think I could make a 5-page analysis about it. I was qu ...more
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Behr has the makings of a good story teller, but labors his way through the narrative with detailed descriptions of growing up experiences, most of which are deadly boring. His references to his family ties to famous South Africans serve to detract from the narrative rather than enhance it and are inconclusive in their pertinence. His brief hints of South African society, social and political problems and the essence of the South African racial disaster are briefly and inconclusively touched upo ...more
May 17, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Narrated by Marnus Erasmus, an Afrikaner boy growing up in South Africa in the 1970s. His blood brother and best friend Frikkie gets Marnus in trouble again and again. Zelda Kemp - not daughter of stripper - wears a hat to avoid freckling (why would you ever?!). Marcus seems to inherit all of his political views from his father, and the moral ones from his mother. Most of the time, he seems unable to form his own such opinions. The harsh reality of Apartheid is described in a matter-of-fact mann ...more
My review was delayed so that I had completely forgotten everything about this book, but just flicking through the last pages of the book reminded me of a couple of terrible incidents. The children are indoctrinated into the supposed glory and bravery of the Afrikaners and are not allowed to question their parents' beliefs. Even though they are largely brought up by a black woman, she is never part of the family. Due to the violent nature of society and unthinking prejudice against the blacks an ...more
Lori Clark-Erickson
Lexile: 1050
Historical Event / Time Period: 1970 19s, Apartheid in South Africa
Liked: I liked learning about the different cultures and languages in South Africa.
Disliked: I really didn 19t like how long that it took to get to the climax of the story and it had random inappropriate parts that I felt didn 19t really relate to the book.
Summary: The Smell of Apples is set in the 1970 19s during the apartheid in South Africa. The main character, Marnus, faces struggles throughout his life but they
Shirley Exall
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this and found it very moving in many parts. The perceptions and memories of a returnee and the attitudes of those he had left behind, mixed in with the pain of family relationships and bitterness and anger, all provide material for an incandescent explosion, and one reads this wondering when the explosion will come. It never really does (there are some minor spurts), and maybe that's a good thing because it might have been too melodramatic had it done so. Anyway, the most important th ...more
Mar 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Had to read it for a literary Assignment. I was shocked in the end. Really? Did that really have to happend? I know the author wants to show us how looks are deceiving, how an apple can be rotten from the inside, but still shiny from the outside. But smell never deceives.

I think the thoughts from Masrnus in 1988 didn't add much to the story. We know how war is, we knoe how horrible it can be. Nothing surprising there. I also thought that the Marnus we got to know through the book was a completel
Feb 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: z2015
Like many of the reviewers, I thought this book was a bit heavy. Not literally weighty; it had a lot of terribly traumatic events take place, but many of them did nothing to seriously progress the story. Even though I thought the flash forward sections were done well, there was real no connection to 11-year old boy. Yes, we are suppose to understand the boy will become the soldier, but the transition is missing. I will say that the perspective was fantastic; one of the few books that used the fi ...more
Dec 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, south-africa
I read this book while staying In the area where it was set. I appreciated this connection. I also appreciated seeing how permeating the racism was in every-day life as this white boy absorbed the messages that surrounded him. However, I am annoyed by a reading yet another decent book that spends its last section turning the direction of unhealthy relationships. In this book, it felt like a sensational add-on rather than an important part of the book. I'm disappointed this book is lauded to be s ...more
F Clark
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
I found the most compelling element of The Smell of Apples to be the juxtaposition of the narration of the 12 year old central character, with the narration the same character at 20 something. In the Elegance of the Hedgehog, the younger and older narrators are not related, but seemed to me to complement each other in a number of unexpected ways. The older narrator has found a strategy for embracing life while existing at its margins. I found some of the arts references rather esoteric, but mayb ...more
Oct 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
A time in history I don't know much about. I liked that the story is told from the boy's innocent point-of-view. Don't like anything else. The book is one long chapter for 200 pages. Story reflects the racism and arrogance of 1970's S Africa, but no adult ever steps in to tell the reader what's going on. Lots of words in Africaan dialect, with no clue what any of the phrases mean in English. Plus another boy abused for no apparent reason? I don't recommend this book! ...more
Philip Lane
Jun 21, 2012 rated it liked it
I thought this was well written and I got a good sense of the location and the life of a boy in South Africa. However I also felt it was somewhat lightweight in terms of interesting content - it has a startling ending of course which I can't say too much about so as not to spoil it. However that ending seemed to come out of the blue and throws up issues which are not addressed as it is quickly covered up and then the book ends. I am left a bit bemused. ...more
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Coming on the heels of reading In a Different Time, Peter Harris' memoir of his work as an anti-apartheiddefense attorney, Mark Behr's debut novel extends my stay in South Africa. A tale of lost innocence and a disturbing portrait of Afrikaner society in the mid 1970's; Behr's writing is quiet, understated, and chilling. I wish Goodreads offered a half star option - this one would be a 3.5* for me ...more
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nope
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joy Wags
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very sad tale beautifully told. The characters are entirely convincing and the smells and tastes of the countryside are palpable. I really enjoyed this and wanted the characters to pull through to some kind of salvation. Without killing the plot for others, I have to say that the sense of doom pervades the novel all the way to the end and one wonders if there will be any bright future for people like this.
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