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The Afrikaner

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When a car-jacking in Johannesburg leads to the death of her colleague and lover, Zoe du Plessis, a palaeontologist of Afrikaner origin, is suddenly confronted with her family’s secret, wrapped in an old Xhosa’s curse. As she heads for the Kalahari Desert in search of early human fossils, Zoe embarks on an inner journey into the sense of guilt haunting her people. Meaningful encounters with an aged Bushman, a legendary but troubled writer author and her ancestors’ diaries will reshape her sense of identity.
Now also in audiobook format, superbly narrated by Los Angeles-based, South African voice actor Dennis Kleinman (available on all major platforms, from Audible to Google Play, from Apple Books to Kobo and Scribd).

“Arianna Dagnino’s transcultural novel transports the reader into the complex and potentially dangerous world of its protagonist within sensually rich descriptions of southern Africa. The author’s experiential immersion in her topic is obvious in the detailed and nuanced familiarity she evokes with the various cultural groups that form the basis of her characters. Rarely does one encounter a novelist who can articulate so deftly the multiple perspectives that are at the heart of the changing sociological landscape of a place such as postcolonial South Africa. As one whose forebears were among the first Cape colonists, I found Dagnino’s The Afrikaner to be eerily compelling.”
—Dr. Kathryn Pentecost, freelance author, blogger, arts producer.

“A clever, fresh and widely resonating novel whose international, globalizing streak rescues us from stale and overly provincial atmospheres.”
—Dr. Carlo Testa, The University of British Columbia

“Quite amazing and intriguing that I identified with Zoe in so many ways … and have lived parts of her imaginary life for real. Well done with your portrayal of this character. You have the gift, that’s for sure.”
—Dr. Saskia Water, South African palaeontologist

“The text thoughtfully sharpens our awareness of the mingled yarns that create individual identities.”
—Dr. Michael Hattaway, New York University in London


As a reporter, translator and academic lecturer Arianna Dagnino has crossed many borders and lived in many countries, including a five-year stint in South Africa. The author of books on the impact of globalization and digital technologies, Dagnino holds a PhD from the University of South Australia. She now makes her home in Vancouver.

285 pages, Paperback, Kindle & Audiobook

First published April 1, 2019

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About the author

Arianna Dagnino

8 books18 followers
I am the author of the post-apartheid novel The Afrikaner (Guernica, Toronto, 2019), an on-the-road adventure story of hate, love, guilt and redemption under the African sky (now in audiobook format too! https://www.ariannadagnino.com/audiob...)
In my career as an international reporter, literary translator and academic researcher, I have lived in many countries, including a five-year stint in South Africa. I have published several books on the impact of global mobility, science and new technologies. I hold a PhD from the University of South Australia and currently teach Italian Studies at the University of British Columbia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 34 reviews
Profile Image for Sue.
1,228 reviews527 followers
April 23, 2019
Zoe du Plessis, paleontologist, Afrikaner who can trace her family history 300 years in South Africa, bereaved woman who has lost her lover and colleague to a car hijacking, is a woman who embodies the struggle of South Africa in 1996. Apartheid has ended and black government rules. Where do the former classes in the highly stratified society fit in the future, a very different future for everyone in terms of power, control and expectations?

The Afrikaner is a beautifully written novel that celebrates the beauties of Africa; presents the reality of the disappearing life of Bushmen of the desert; shows some of the reality of being a field paleontologist in a harsh environment worried by self doubt and declining expectations; and gives a view of the mine field that existed as all the disparate peoples of South Africa, black, white, colored, work out their new realities.

There are elements of magical realism in scenes among the Bushmen that evoke times long before our own. There are frank discussions of events that happened under apartheid, discussions among family, friends and others, some who prefer to put it fully out of memory. Atonement! A major sticking point even to be thought about among some Afrikaners.

This novel is such a combination of the personal, social, cultural, where even international aspects of life become involved. And then it is such a pleasure to read, to follow Zoe’s emotional journey of self and cultural identity.

Highly recommended

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Profile Image for Kat Dietrich.
1,145 reviews140 followers
November 11, 2019

The Afrikaner by Arianna Dagnino is a tale of love, loss, and racial tension in South Africa.

First, let me thank the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

My Synopsis:     (No major reveals, but if concerned, skip to My Opinions)

Zoe du Plessis, a paleontologist, heads to the Kalahari Desert in South Africa to finish the work her colleague and lover could not.  He was killed in a car hi-jacking in Johannesburg.

Zoe is a white woman, of South African descent, who still struggles with the White/Black balance of her country.   She is not the only one.  Apartheid is over, and the governing body is now Black, but politics aside, the country is still grappling with their identity.

Zoe is also struggling with the loss of her boyfriend, being the new boss in his dig, and the new partnership her brother is entertaining in his desires to grow their vineyard.  Then there is the matter of her Aunt's diaries, and the apparent curse that has been handed down.

My Opinions:
This is not my normal genre, so I was totally out of my comfort zone when it comes to this book.  I do not read history,  political, nor romance novels, and this seems to be all three.  I have very little knowledge of South Africa, their troubles, Apartheid.   So, while this was a learning experience for me, it was also a difficult read.  I read fiction to be entertained....I read non-fiction to be taught.  I felt like I was being taught.

Zoe is on a journey of self-discovery, and her thoughts describe the voyage, as she travels deep within the desert, and back to the family's winery.

The actual writing was clear, and the overall story was fine, but I could not relate to most of it, or even like any of the characters.

There was nothing wrong with this book, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.  It was, therefore, difficult to rate.  What I usually do when I have this issue, is to toss out the area that gave me the most trouble with the book, and then rate on the rest.   This, unfortunately, tosses out all the political/racial and South Africa issues, which is a major part of the book (and which I admit to occasionally skimming).  Trying to be fair to the author,  on the writing alone I am giving it 3 stars, which still denotes a good book in my standards, but not something I will re-read.

While others will no doubt enjoy this book immensely, I will sit on the fence.

Profile Image for Richard.
1,764 reviews146 followers
January 30, 2019
This is a superb novel, immense in its range and subject. Brave in its use of the science of palaeontology to be a simile for the more recent political struggle in South Africa, its people and tribes that live in that culture and inhabit the land.
Zoe Du Plessis is the product of the white heritage in South Africa able to trace her ancestry back over 300 years. But the political reality now has a new regime in power, post apartheid it is a time where many of her Afrikaner people are re-evaluating their futures. She is a recognised professor looking for evidence of the first humans that walked this planet. The cradle of civilisation is believed to be East Africa and her research department is looking for fossil evidence to support the emergence of hominoids and human society.
The changes the book explores are political, scientific and personal relationships. In Zoe’s case her life is devastated and brought into historical context by the death of her lover and colleague, Dario Oldani.
It is always a sumptuous read; the authors words expand the panorama of the vast hinterland of the veld and desert areas. You feel a sense of place, it’s smells and sounds you see to distant horizons and understand those who have gone before. This writing infuses both the open spaces as well as the menace of downtown city roads and the fragrant coastal air.
I loved the why characters adjust to grief and loss no more so than Zoe but the fun runs through several individuals we meet.
The voice of the indigenous people; their simplicity, their oral traditions and the threat to their way of life and future is also introduced. Their ways of coping and embracement of an uncertain future is humbling and also a passed over concern, it seems like it has always been this way.
This is a book that talks about time; quantified by generations, scientific knowledge, imprisonment and opportunity. Zoe’s life is on hold. Buried like the elusive fossils she searches for and seemingly time-locked by superstition and shadows from her family’s genealogy.
How this is worked out makes this such a compelling read. In the process the dark past of Africa is shared on a canvas of the colours, traditions and culture of a fascinating geographical place.
I was moved by the sense of borders, the symbol of footprints and the question to the writer in the novel here who Zoe says can manipulate time.
It is a piece of literature that seems never ending in its focus, exploring issues that begin with an African Eve but offering in its conclusion that things can change, choices embraced and new relationships made. The ending is just wonderful and fitting, meaning the book will never leave me.
Profile Image for Calzean.
2,591 reviews1 follower
March 23, 2019
The Apartheid era is over, South Africa is struggling with its new world of equality. Zoe is a young paleoanthropologist and has to grapple with the car-jacking murder of her lover, dealing with guilt as a privileged white in a land of inequality, assessing her own prejudices, wondering about new prejudices she is seeing and leading a dig in the middle of the Kalahari for a year or so. She also reads a diary of her Aunt with a bag of family secrets, the admission of her brother that is he is in a long-term relationship with a Black man and her new feelings for an older man, a famous writer who was imprisoned for his political views.
So there's a lot going on and maybe too many things. Still, a reasonable novel for those looking to know something about South Africa.
Profile Image for Jeannette.
650 reviews139 followers
May 1, 2019
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

(Around the World: South Africa)

A lovely novel that I really don't regret requesting on NetGalley.

The Afrikaner is a perfect example for what I need for my Reading around the world challenge. It wasn't just a story, but also a lesson.

I had a brief idea about the apartheid and the racial tensions in South Africa, but little more beyond that. The Afrikaner allowed me to get a larger glimpse into the struggle between the native population (from all sorts of tribes) and the Boers in South Africa. I felt deeply and truly immersed into the world of the Afrikaners, their colonial pride, so to say, and their shame afterwards, as well as the struggle between the progressive Afrikaners who start accepting the post-apartheid situation and those who refuse to accept the black people as their equals.

Although I'm well aware what a problematic place the world is, it still sometimes amazes me to see, read or hear about how some parts of the world are and remain to be, even after the world has become such a multicultural and, more or less, free place. Of course, things have, indeed changed, from the time the book is set in, but I think they've gone even more astray. The book presents us with the time when South Africa is just getting used to the fall of the Boers from the government and is under the presidency of Nelson Mandela, and shows the moral dilemma of the Afrikaners who are learning to embrace their black brothers. And nowadays, Afrikaners are a dwindling population continuously stuck in an identity crisis, who are slowly, but, according to the research I made, steadily disappearing in a world that's no longer welcoming to them.

The Afrikaner, however, went beyond just the societal role of the Afrikaner in South Africa. The book also told the story of a paleontologist called Zoe who finds herself caught up in a family curse dating from the times of the first Dutch settlers who had clashes with the Xhosa locals. The story was quite entertaining all on its own and Zoe, albeit not the most elaborate character I've read about, was an interesting protagonist.

My issue with the book came out of the appearance and role of Kurt. He did have a practical purpose of the book, which was obvious from the very first scene he was in, but the developments at the end just didn't seem very plausible and felt a bit like a ploy to lead the book to where it needs to get, instead of happening naturally.
January 24, 2019
Arianna Dagnino’s The Afrikaner is a multi-faceted book. First and foremost, it is a compelling narrative about the life and the psychology of a strong, intelligent, introspecting woman in agony (her fiancé was shot dead), and the diverse people she deals with.
At the same time, it is a realistic report on the current way of life of some of our fellow terrestrials, who are heading to the future with us, but not first class: Xhosa, Bantu, Ovambos, Afrikaners of old Dutch lineage.
The third theme is atonement. The protagonist’s family – and herself – have lived centuries under a spell, a punishment for a violent behaviour. Likewise, the peoples of South Africa are forced, in that year 1996 that erases Apartheid, to come to terms with their participation to the moral, legal, penal crimes and misdemeanors it entailed. Those people seem to moan that evil is everywhere and on everybody. Hence the need and wish of atonement.
Arianna Dagnino’s English prose is precise and brilliant; and the punctuation (this humble dictionary of pauses) is as professional and fluid as to leave the reader relaxed. From time to time the reader must stop and read a second time some beautifully carved sentences.
In short, I dare to say that The Afrikaner is the first important gift the New Year carries over to literary culture. (Giannalberto Bendazzi / author of Animation – A World History)

Profile Image for Geoffrey Fox.
Author 8 books43 followers
July 26, 2019
Marvelous. Arianna Dagnino takes the reader into some very diverse regions of South Africa and Namibia, and deeper yet into their history (the protagonist is a paleaontologist seeking and finding evidence of the earliest human settlements, possibly the earliest in the world, hundreds of thousands years ago). Most importantly, she takes us just below the social surface to glimpse the raging contradictions exploding in a country that, until just recently, had kept them sealed tight under the Afrikaners' state-supported myth of themselves as a single, homogenous people and the only rightful and righteous sovereigns.
The author has chosen to let us experience these sudden, post-apartheid changes through the eyes and feelings of an Afrikaner, an intelligent and sensitive young woman whose mother tongue is Afrikaans, who is acutely aware of the history that produced this new tribe (a mix of Dutch-origin farmers—"Boers"—, French Huguenots and others), and who, like other Afrikaners, is trying to cope with the new demands of other, far more ancient tribes, including Xhosa, Zulu and San.
The images of different landscapes, Johannesburg's CBD, a coastal paradise near Table Mountain, and — with greatest detail — the Kalahari, are rich enough to make you feel that you have been there. And the stories, not just that of Zoe Du Plessis, the Afrikaner protagonist, but of the people she works and deals with, are sometimes startling. Particularly the old San ("Bushman") shaman, a former tracker for the South African army, and his timeless insights into sorrows and healing; the Zulu driver who is a half-recovered veteran from the traumatic war in Angola, and the "thief of stories," a poet and writer once celebrated as a hero of the Afrikaners but then punished when he returned from exile to oppose apartheid.
There is yet another story, revealed in a secret diary bequeathed to Zoe by a great aunt (in a rather improbable chain of coincidences), to show us other, sexual consequences of the Afrikaners' tortured history.
If I ever get there, I know I will be looking for the places and encounters she describes; but I also know that, unless I were to devote long years and a very open heart to the project, I could never see it with my own eyes as sharply as I've sensed it in this reading. The whole is an especially impressive performance by a gifted writer who is not herself South African (born in Genoa, now living in Vancouver), and a demonstration of great empathy and research.
The ending, which I shan't reveal, is particularly lovely.
Profile Image for Mandy.
3,123 reviews266 followers
April 15, 2019
This thoughtful and intelligent novel is set in South Africa in 1996 during the transition from the apartheid regime to the first democratically elected black government. From the Cape to the Kalahari we follow Zoe du Plessis, an Afrikaner, as she searches for answers not only in her professional field as a palaeontologist but in her personal life. Multiculturalism, or transculturalism as some reviewers have termed it, is at the heart of the novel, as both whites and blacks explore issues of identity, guilt, atonement and, it is to be hoped, reconciliation. The tensions between the various racial and cultural groups are sensitively handled and the changing society in post-colonial South Africa is clearly delineated. Vivid descriptions of the African landscape and empathetic depictions of traditional ways of life enhance the reading, as does the scientific aspect of Zoe’s quest to explore the very origins of mankind. It’s a wide-ranging novel, with many issues being examined, and in some ways it’s difficult to decide what the primary focus is. Perhaps there is just too much here and a narrower focus might have been more successful. Although I enjoyed the novel I didn’t warm to Zoe herself, finding that she remained opaque to me, and that meant I wasn’t as emotionally involved as I would have liked. Nevertheless, it’s a well-written and well-paced novel that opens up post-apartheid South Africa with insight and empathy.
Profile Image for Arja Salafranca.
190 reviews10 followers
October 22, 2019
It’s always interesting to see ourselves, as South Africans, reflected through another’s gaze as author Arianna Dagnino does in The Afrikaner. A multi-cultural author with roots in Italy and now resident in Canada, this novel is based on time she spent in this part of the world.

It opens in the mid 1990s. Democratic elections are over and the new ANC government is in power. It opens with a bang, literally, as Wits-based Italian palaeontologist Dario Oldani is shot in a hijacking in Johannesburg’s CBD. He was the lover of Zoe du Plessis, another palaeontologist, also based at Wits University. She is ‘the Afrikaner’ of the title and the story is focused on her after the events of the tragedy.

She struggles to move on from the death of her lover. And she is snagged between the present and the past – caught in the pages of the diaries left behind by a series of aunts. These are women who died unmarried, women who had been loved once – but the men died early, and the threat of a curse hangs through their deaths.

Zoe and her brother, Andre, lost their parents young to a car accident. He has inherited and runs the family wine farm, Finistère, a place where Zoe retreats after Dario’s death to read through diary entries – again, to try to come to terms with the senselessness of Dario’s death.

Back in Johannesburg, she asks to take over Dario’s research in the Kalahari, where he had been excavating a site hoping to find evidence of early humans. Some of the most moving, picturesque scenes of this novel take part in this hot, scoured part of southern Africa. Zoe is accompanied by Sam Kaleni, a Rastafarian, and Koma, a shaman Bushman who she met years ago while excavating in another part of the world. Both men provide her with her some entry into a world that is not familiar to her.

Dagnino describes the beauty of this coruscating place with a depth that brings it alive: “It’s there that, for the first time, she encountered the power of geographical emptiness, the non-place where, as the Bushmen say, you can hear the stars sing.” The months pass as her team digs and yet, there is little evidence of human life in the caves, and morale among the team becomes low.

Interspersed with time in the desert are her trips to Finistère, where her brother André is bringing a black partner on board, a man named Cyril. The ‘new’ South Africa is barely born – and few farms have black partners in this deeply conservative part of the world, still. André is deeply aware of the changes that must be welcomed and that, “We are destined to become a cumbersome minority.”

There’s a deep sense of guilt in Zoe. Guilt at her Afrikaner origins, and at the fact that she did nothing to oppose apartheid and racism while studying in the 1980s. And musing on her relations with those who are not white, the painful truth comes to light, the lack of knowing that causes more guilt: “She grew up in Africa, but she doesn’t know them. There are millions of them in her country, yet – except for her interaction with a bunch of researchers and medical students – she hasn’t shared much with them. She doesn’t know how they reason, what they really think of whites, how they judge whites, or how much they hate whites.”

Enter too, a brooding Afrikaans writer, a stealer of stories from the silences, a man who has been in prison for his opposition to the system and for marrying a woman a woman who was not white, now dead. He is Kurt, an enigmatic man, a friend of her brother, who exerts a pull over Zoe as she starts to move out of her own grief, and so, in the midst of all, begins a slow, curious dance towards something more with this man.

The story is beguiling – with its elements of paleoethology, the deep need to find out more about our origins, mingled with the newness of the country where the people who have been separated for years are now circling each other with a mixture of hope and confusion. Continuing to be dodged by personal demons, Zoe is invited to take part in a shamanic healing by Koma and another resident Bushman shaman under the Kalahari night sky in prose that brings the strangeness of human experiences alive.

The theme of past and future, of searching for meaning in a past, even while that past might feel redundant, runs strongly through the story. Palaeontology serves as a metaphor – Zoe excavating her past and her past guilt as thoroughly as she excavates the sands in the Kalahari.

And so, an outsider shining a light on some of our stories – does it succeed? At times I felt the points were hammered home a little too unsubtly and Zoe’s immense sense of guilt doesn’t always ring true. Or, at least, I wanted more interiority to justify Zoe’s feelings. I also wondered about the choice of the title, which suggests that Zoe is emblematic of all Afrikaners, whereas one character cannot stand for all of a particular group. I would have preferred a title that was less abstract and did more justice to the beauty of the novel, the rich writing about landscape, palaeontology, and the birth pangs of the ‘new’ South Africa. So yes, this entertaining novel succeeds on many levels, shot with deep understanding of the complexities of this land at a particular time. Dagnino’s writing on landscape and the country, and the injustices inherent in Johannesburg’s geography, is acute.

The book works as a love story, as exploration both within and without, and as paean to a time in our country’s history when we were emerging into something new, with problems that still tentacle into the present.
Profile Image for J.D. DeHart.
Author 12 books42 followers
January 28, 2019
This book was truly beautiful, lyrical, and compelling, and this is a story brimming with character and place. Arianna Dagnino writes in a way that is attractive and hard to dismiss. The Afrikaner is quite a reading experience, and one I would gladly recommend to others.
Profile Image for Ian Shaw.
Author 5 books50 followers
January 15, 2019
This is a wonderful novel, which demonstrates the author's brilliant ability to grasp the human element amidst historic political transition. I read the novel in just two sittings and quickly identified with its characters and their stories. And I loved the descriptions of the landscapes and peoples of the new South Africa. A highly enjoyable read that I would recommend to everyone.
Profile Image for Mommy Reads And Reviews.
229 reviews16 followers
May 25, 2019
Thank you NetGalley, the author Adrianna Dagnino and the publisher for an E ARC of ‘The Afrikaner’.
As a White English-Speaking South African now living in the Uk I couldn’t wait to start this book. It’s written so well it transported me home.
So many lines made me stop and close my eyes so that I could fully immerse myself in the feelings the imagery evoked. I ended up goggling Ms Dagnino as I was confused to see she was Italian, living in Canada. She had to have lived in Southern Africa, as it has bewitched her to her soul. I could see it in her beautiful writing. I was right. She did indeed spend 5 years living and writing as a reported in SA.

This book centres around Zoe, an Afrikaans Paleontologist is struggling to come to terms with the horrific murder of her partner in a hijacking in downtown Joburg. It’s set in 1996 and this resonated with me hugely. I was completing my Master’s degree in South Africa at this time and wrote my thesis on the Social Identity of White English-Speaking South Africans versus the Social Identity of Afrikaans South Africans, a theme that is highlighted in this book.

I could write pages and pages on how brilliantly this book depicts transcultural, racial, romantic and magical elements, all woven into a evocative story. But all I will say is if you have lived in South Africa you will love this book, as it will pull at the magic Mama Africa has left in you and if you haven’t ever visited South Africa you will fall in love.
1 review
May 11, 2020
The Forbidden Letter,
A Literary Analysis, by
Andrei Rizea

“What you will read in these pages may sound meaningless to you, hardly credible. Nonetheless, it is true. It will be up to you to decide whether to deny the veracity of this confession or accept it and therefore face your destiny with mature awareness. Your fate — our fate — dictates the solitude of the heart” (Dagnino 118).

In a timeless letter addressed to South African palaeontologist Zoe Du Plessis, the story’s protagonist, when she was just 6 years of age, the narrator pauses time for a brief moment. Language becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the novel’s timeline. The author’s simple yet incredibly effective prose immerses the reader in a world of dualities, paradoxes and uncertainties. Opposing forces push against one another. The dream of an elusively harmonic life is Zoe’s fuel to scour the dry, desolate desert in search for her ‘ancestors’; a complex process which can be achieved both in a physical sense of uncovering an archeological remain and in a metaphoric sense of connecting through the numerous texts and stories she comes across.

The power of storytelling shapes Zoe’s identity as she traverses the diverse, ancient and shifting nature of South Africa’s landscape. Bushmen rely on this impactful tool to ensure the survival of their culture and stories, whereas Zoe’s journey of self-discovery depends on the narration of the past to shape her current self and carve the path towards a more faithful future. As her mother discovered Aunt Charlotte’s will and diary, Zoe attempts to hide them and distract her with material truths. Dagnino cleverly hints at Zoe’s understanding of the true treasure within the will, where she states how “they [Zoe’s mother and grand-mother] touched those precious objects in wonder, but also with apprehension…[Zoe] didn’t dare touch Charlotte’s diary until late into the night, to be sure everyone was asleep” (117). This juxtaposition between the material and immaterial depicts Zoe’s growing appreciation of how language, and more specifically storytelling, can be a formidable tool for discovering many intangible treasures more valuable than mere tangible ingots.

In Aunt Charlotte’s letter to Zoe, specific terms such as destiny, fate and life are repeated throughout, persistently drawing the reader’s attention to an overlying tone of existentialism and spirituality. Identity becomes another emerging theme elegantly revealed in the passage as Zoe’s destiny, although unable to cross paths with her aunt’s fate in a direct means, becomes inevitably linked to her through their shared family name. The past is a paradoxical entity within The Afrikaner that simultaneously may trap or free oneself depending on the interpretation and ‘usage’ of its recipient. Zoe is encouraged to “find [her] way by studying, discovering [her] artistic talents, caring for others, doing business….or, say, by dedicating [herself] to a mission or hobby” (Dagnino 118). The message is clear: Zoe must contradictorily ‘detach’ from yet embrace her family name and past in order to re-invent herself through a blank page, utilizing her family heritage not as a constraint or a burden, but as a tool to start over, allowing her to break free even from the sense of guilt for the death of her colleague and lover.

The Afrikaner is an authentic journey across bold landscapes where time, the meaning of life, and the fragile yet complex nature of the human spirit capture the reader’s inner-self. Stories of love, conflict and discovery are inextricably woven together like a braided basket of layered realties and truths. Dagnino’s pure and intentional speech truthfully portrays the struggle of a female explorer, dreamer, archaeologist, and lover of life as she battles with the uncertainties of time and the potency of language through an artistry of storytelling.
Profile Image for Stefan Vucak.
Author 31 books123 followers
September 18, 2019
After her boyfriend and colleague is killed at night in downtown Johannesburg, Professor Zoe Du Plessis, a South African paleontologist, is left devastated. Reading her aunt’s diary, she learns of a family curse that follows every first-born female due to a terrible deed done by one of her ancestors, and she seems to have inherited it. Zoe decides to continue research for traces of early humans in Namibia started by her dead colleague. She hires a Zulu driver and they head off for the Kalahari.

She finds some human skull fragments, but nothing in the following six months. Taking a break, she returns to Cape Town to meet her brother. On her return to the dig, they keep searching for another five months and find nothing. Zoe decides to search at a new location. Still bothered by the old family curse, she participates in a Bushman ceremony, hoping for release, but the dark shadow is still with her. Will she ever dare love a man again, only to see him dead? After two months of fruitless exploration, Zoe and her team concentrate their work on a cave. They find a flint tool and everyone is excited. A spiritual excursion into the Kalahari leaves her wondering if the curse had left her. Work on the dig continues, as does her search for inner peace.

With ‘The Afrikaner’, Arianna Dagnino reveals to readers a troubled South Africa where despite the end apartheid, racial discrimination is still practiced; the only difference is that now it works against the whites. Zoe Du Plessis is proud of her Boer heritage and considers South Africa her home, which motivates her professional endeavors to prove that mankind originated south of the Zambezi. The curse has followed the first-born female of her family for 300 years, and Zoe has had a personal taste of its effects.

Some readers will find the diary flashbacks somewhat daunting, but they provide necessary background into Zoe’s family history, and to an extent, it explains her own behavior. Arianna Dagnino brings the Kalahari desert and the native Bushmen alive in vivid narrative. Readers will be fascinated by the Bushmen's spiritual lifestyle and how it touches Zoe in her quest to fight her demons. Descriptions of her work in the desert are somewhat sketchy, and a more detailed insight into the workings of an anthropological dig would have been appreciated. The ending is a little unsatisfying, leaving several unanswered questions, but ‘The Afrikaner’ is an enchanting, superbly written novel that will keep readers wanting more. A very worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Gia.
184 reviews
July 23, 2019
“Slow down, but don’t ever stop.” Never stop at a red light. It’s one of Dario Oldani’s last thoughts as he becomes a victim of a senseless, fatal car jacking in a Central Business District area of South Africa. The tragic event of her lover’s death crushingly changes, while simultaneously cements the course of Dr. Zoe Du Plessis’ life.

Devastated with grief by Dario’s death, Zoe decides to take some time off from the university, and return for a visit to her family home Finistère – a successful winery run by her brother André.

On one of her overnight stops, Zoe is seeking a solitary moment and in the quiet and darkness, she meets a man. This “thief of stories”, believes they did not meet by accident and suggests to her that they may very well meet again. Kurt, this mysterious stranger, plays a significant part in her life further in the book.

Zoe arrives home in time to learn that André has hired on Cyril Kunene, one of the first black men to be the director of a South African winery. She has never had any interest in running the winery and welcomes the new director.

Zoe tries her best to cope with her mourning but we learn there is more to it - she feels responsible for Dario’s death. Zoe has been carrying a secret passed down through the generations that has added the burdens of fear and guilt to her grief. We discover there is an old curse on the Du Plessis family: the first-born female of the family would never produce children before their husband died. As Zoe reads her Great-Aunt Charlotte’s diaries throughout the book, we learn more about the past Du Plessis women and how the curse carried out in their lives. As a scientist, Zoe does not accept the credibility of a curse, but as a woman who has just lost the only man she ever loved, and broke through her protective walls, she can’t help but believe it.

When Zoe reports back to work, she requests to be sent to continue leading Dario’s unfinished work in the Kalahari. She is given a six month leave and recruits a team to find her “Homo”. Zoe dreams of making history by unearthing a human skull or skeletal remnant of an ancient people. Zoe is driven to honour Dario’s research but also, she purposefully wants to lose herself in Bushmanland, and exhaust herself to the point of numbness. Under the blanket of the desert, Zoe seeks to rid herself of the curse and arranges for the village shaman to try and cure her of the black spirit that is following her.

Does Zoe lose the black shadow following her? Will she meet her enigmatic stranger again?

There are layers on layers in The Afrikaner - steeped in the history and current political reality of South Africa, the struggle for balance in power, the faces of the people. Dagnino’s narrative is superb. Her skill at bringing the colours, the smells, the dust of the desert, the curving passes and lush green landscapes to the reader’s mind is expert. The Afrikaner is an exquisite read. I cannot recommend this literary work of excellence highly enough.

I thank Arianna Dagnino and Guernica Editions for most graciously providing me with the opportunity to read The Afrikaner.

The opinions expressed in my review are my own.
Profile Image for Zoë S. Roy.
Author 4 books79 followers
September 6, 2019
Arianna Dagnino’s The Afrikaner tells a story of young professional woman, Zoe Du Plessis, who copes with her fiancé’s sudden death and carries on with what he was doing as a paleontologist. Zoe’s personal story is entwined with her family history as early Boer settlers in South Africa through Zoe’s aunt’s diaries. The protagonist is an admirable idealist; the curse in her family is intriguing. I enjoy the excellent imagery like “The ashen light pours down on hundreds of termite mounds, rising from the earth like fingers pointing against the gods.”(P. 145) and great details, such as young Zoe’s interest in skulls and Zoe wearing her late mother’s green dress.

From this rich novel, I’ve learned about the interculture, society and history of South Africa. The author’s abundant life experience, great imagination, and profound knowledge help create vivid characters and write a terrific novel, which also proves my belief that an author can create fascinating stories beyond her or his own culture.
Profile Image for Bev.
513 reviews27 followers
December 5, 2019
Zoe du Plessis is The Afrikaner. She’s also a palaeontologist, who has lost her fiancé (and also her work colleague) in a car hijacking in Johannesburg. She wants to complete the work they were busy on in the Kalahari. Her own family history and secrets also emerge and threaten to disrupt her life completely.

When I observed that Adrianna Dagnino had spent only five years in South Africa, and written a novel from the perspective she chose, I approached with caution. Surely there would be some clangers – language perhaps, or interactions between diverse people groups that wouldn’t ring true. South Africa is a rainbow nation of very different people groups, with complex histories and relationships.

Read my full review here.
Profile Image for Tonja.
250 reviews
April 20, 2019
This story pulls you in from the first page as Zoe’s boyfriend is killed in a senseless act of violence in South Africa. Zoe is dealing with grief and deeply searching in both her personal and professional life. As a paleoanthropologist she is obsessed with discovering human fossils. At the same time she is uncovering family secrets through the reading of her aunts diary. Somehow the author is able to weave all of this together and also give you a glimpse into to the culture, politics and beauty of Africa. Her writing is descriptive and introspective. I found myself underlining and re-reading beautiful sentences throughout the book. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sayo    -bibliotequeish-.
1,526 reviews25 followers
April 10, 2019
Generation after generation of first born females born into the du Plessis family carry a secret.
Armed with diaries of those women who came before her, Zoe heads out into the Kalahari desert on a journey of self discovery.

Unfortunately I could not get into this book.
While it started out quite strong, somewhere along the lines of Zoe's Kalahari expedition, the story lost me.
I did enjoy the writing, I just expected the story to go in a different direction.

Still an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Lalaa #ThisBlackGirlReads.
103 reviews32 followers
April 9, 2019
Overall I think this is a well written and engaging story about one woman's search for answers. But there’s also a lot going on in this one. It took me a little longer than normal to get through it but once I did, I really liked the story. Set in South Africa after the apartheid the story follows a fossil hunter who is haunted by a family curse. I loved the setting as well as the sheer brilliance of the main character. Most of all I loved the description of the people and the land.
May 30, 2019
Powerful and evocative. If you lived in South Africa you'll find yourself fully back into it. If you haven't you'll have a pretty good idea of the complexity of the place and the people - and the spell it can cast upon you.
1 review8 followers
February 9, 2019
“After Zoe enters the Karoo, I had to keep reading […] Set in a South Africa trying to adjust to the recent end of apartheid, The Afrikaner is the compelling story of a fossil-hunter haunted by her family curse. Wise in the ways of paleoanthropology, viticulture, history, and the complex choreography of Boer, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Bushmen, and others, Arianna Dagnino’s novel fulfills its protagonist’s vision of art: ‘Imagination in motion.’”
Profile Image for Kathryn Pentecost.
2 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2019
Arianna Dagnino's transcultural novel transports the reader into the complex and potentially dangerous world of its protagonist within sensually rich descriptions of southern Africa. Dagnino's experiential immersion in her topic is obvious in the detailed and nuanced familiarity she evokes with the various cultural groups that form the basis of her characters. Rarely does one encounter a novelist who can articulate so deftly the multiple perspectives that are at the heart of the changing sociological landscape of a place such as postcolonial South Africa. As one whose forebears were amongst the early Cape colonists, I found Dagnino's The Afrikaner to be eerily compelling. Dr Kathryn Pentecost (Editor The Dark Moon Anthology)
Profile Image for Constance.
Author 1 book4 followers
May 14, 2020
Arianna Dagnino’s novel is an intricately woven tale of a young white Afrikaner woman who loses her lover and workmate at Wits University – an Italian palaeontologist, Dario Oldani. Dr Oldani, who has been working in South Africa for the past two years, meets his fate in Johannesburg in the early hours of the morning on his way home. Was it a racially motivated murder that robbed Dr Zoe du Plessis of her lover, or was it just an unfortunate incident? After the death of her lover, Zoe sojourns in solitude on a journey of self-discovery, healing and unearthing deep family roots. Arianna displays her artistic skills in this finely crafted yarn of politics, science, history and romance that entwine so beautifully and captivate the reader.

Dagnino’s transcultural novel is written in English and has a few Afrikaans words. So, the book begins with a glossary, giving explanations of the Afrikaans and slang words used in the book.

After the glossary is a Prologue which begins with, ‘Klim Uit!’ Afrikaans for, ‘Get out!’ The author does not waste any time putting the reader in South Africa, the setting of the book, in the heart of Johannesburg, shortly after South Africa’s Independence (at the end of apartheid). There is still tension in the new Rainbow nation: while for some the transition is easy to adjust to, for some others it takes longer.

After Dario’s incident, Arianna takes us on an expedition with Zoe from the city into the deserts, through mountains and past oceans: a delightful discovery of South African landscapes. We are introduced to different kinds of people: a Rastafarian, Bushmen, Xhosa, a domestic worker, a Boer, just to mention a few.

I absolutely enjoyed every moment with Zoe, the main character of “The Afrikaner.” I felt her every emotion, her pain, her anxiety, her fatigue. She became so real that I could even smell her. It was very easy for me to relate to this saga as I live in South Africa and naturally wish to learn about the history of this country. Zoe can easily represent South Africa: a young land that has suffered so much injustices, so much heartache, pain, violence and bloodshed. But she has to move on. She has to be strong. She has to find her strength in herself, in her deserts, in her oceans and rivers, in her people and in their diversity in culture and language. She has to move away from the place of pain and start afresh on a clean slate. Unfortunately, as Kurt says at page 229, “The past always resurfaces.” Humankind’s past, our individual past and our nation’s past. It cannot be buried and remain buried. How to handle it when it resurfaces is the main issue. Cyril says at page 184, “Diversity is healthy. We can accept each other and be together without giving up our differences. It’s useless – even foolish – to reduce us to a common denominator.” Kurt sums it up, “The Tribes of this country – the white, the black, the coloured – share a long history. Sure, a bloody and violent one. But we’ve been together for hundreds of years now […] This common lived history should be the foundation of our new country.”

The Afrikaner is a story that takes us to the past, the present and the future of South Africa. It gives us hope, as a nation. It speaks a message of love, forgiveness and peace. I am so glad I read this book. I could read it again and recommend it to every South African and anyone living in South Africa. Hats off Ms Dagnino. I give The Afrikaner 4 stars!

Arianna penned several books which include Jesus Christ Cyberstar (2004), Heaven Can Wait No Longer (2009) and Fossili (2010) to mention a few. She holds a PhD in Sociology and Comparative Literature (with a special focus on Transcultural Studies, Creative Writing and World Literature) from the University of South Australia and a Master’s degree in Modern Languages and Literatures from the Università degli Studi di Genova, Italy. Arianna is a literary translator and creative writer. She is also a lecturer at The University of British Columbia. She will be presenting “The Afrikaner” in South Africa at the Free State Arts Festival at the end of June 2020. She will thus be able to return to South Africa after 20 years since she visited our country.
Profile Image for Grazyna Nawrocka.
440 reviews1 follower
November 1, 2019
This novel met all my expectations. I wanted to find out how was life in South Africa after apartheid. In Canada I have encountered many white people from there. I was wondering if there were any left in their native country. It turns out, that yes, and they try to build fragile balance in moving forward.

The romantic layer of the story did not appeal to me. Just like characters of the story, I also believe, that even though past shapes us, we should move forward with our lives.
Profile Image for Cindy Vallar.
Author 4 books13 followers
September 19, 2019
Devastated at the senseless death of her lover, South African paleontologist Zoe Du Plessis flees Johannesburg for her childhood home on the Cape. She risked her heart, only to discover that the warnings of her female ancestors weren’t absurd chimeras of previous firstborn daughters. To come to terms with both reality and her grief, she embarks on a journey of inner reflection that is intertwined with acceptance of the past, standing up for what she believes, and taking chances in spite of her own biasness in an ever-changing world in the aftermath of racial segregation.

This rite of passage is hers alone to make, but each step intersects with others in unforeseen ways. Andrè, her younger brother, wants to replace the white director of the family winery with a black man. Koma, an old Bushman and shaman, emerges from the vast nothingness of the desert to renew their acquaintance. Whether the deep sadness in his eyes is his own or a mirror of hers, a “thief of stories” warns that their destinies are intertwined. From the grave, her aunt and great aunt share a dark secret of the distant past that impacted their lives, while Dario Oldani, her co-worker and lover, compels her to go beyond the comforts of her research lab to continue his hunt for the birthplace of humans in the Kalahari. But navigating the unknown doesn’t come without risk.

The Afrikaner is a story of self-reflection, of coming to terms with the past, present, and the future. Dagnino’s poignant, compelling, you-are-there tale draws us so deep into Zoe’s world that we experience each and every emotion. Her vivid depictions of time and place transport us to the turbulence of South Africa, before, during, and after apartheid until we share both Zoe’s discomfort and love for the land of her birth. It is a haunting portrayal of devastating grief and rational resurgence; once read, neither Zoe nor her experiences are easily forgotten.

Profile Image for McKenzie.
375 reviews13 followers
March 16, 2021
There is a lot going on in this book ranging from the murder of the main character's lover, to her family history, the use of paleontology as a comparison to political struggles, racism and inequality. It's complex and well written, but it just didn't speak to me. I just couldn't relate to the main character. I may come back and try again later. This book may have suffered from timing with other books of a similar nature so I may go back and try again at a later date, but as of this moment the book just doesn't speak to me. I think that if you're interested in books with a little drama, a little magic, and a wallop of socio-political commentary this book will be right up your alley.
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