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Circles in a Forest

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,680 Ratings  ·  58 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.
Published August 31st 2005 by Penguin Books Canada Ltd (first published 1984)
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Amanda Koker The two main characters are Saul Barnard, a dutch lumberjack, and his spirit animal, an Elephant named Oupoot (Oldfoot).
Amanda Koker It's a story of a poor lumberjack boy who grows up with eyes wide open to the destruction that his line of work and the work of all his family member…moreIt's a story of a poor lumberjack boy who grows up with eyes wide open to the destruction that his line of work and the work of all his family member are causing the ancient forest in which they live. He falls in love with a wood traders' (a disgusting specimen of an Englishman who thrives on the exploitation of the lumberjacks.) daughter. He gets disowned by his own father for his contrary way of thinking and ends up working for the wood trader. He grows up and by a good twist of fate learns the skill of gold mining and river trudging. He finds his fortune in gold, marries his girlfriend and ends up a carpenter. Throughout the story there is a strong relationship between Saul and his spirit animal, an Elephant bull, who is eventually in danger of being poached by Saul's very own family members. He fights tooth and nail to protect him from the poachers, where eventually the elephant is shot, but Saul finds a way of hiding the carcass and the tusks and burying them deep in the forest where no one ever dares to go from the fear of getting lost. (less)
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Community Reviews

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Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
7/12/17 - The movie I didn't know existed -
From imdb :

"Saul Barnard grew up in a family of woodcutters. The woodcutters are scared of the elephants in the forest, but there's one elephant that never seems to threaten Saul. Tired of being exploited by wood buyers, Saul takes a stand and his father chases him away. He goes to work on the wood buyer MacDonald's wood yard, where he gets to know MacDonald's daughter, Kat
May 09, 2008 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
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dit maak nie saak hoeveel keer ek dié boek lees nie (selfs al is dit meermale omdat ek dit as voorgeskrewe boek behandel), dit bly uitstekend, interessant en ontroerend. My suster het onlangs die saak knap opgesom: Dalene Matthee was dalk nie die koningin van skrywers nie, maar sy was die koningin van storievertellers. Sela.

Rereading (even because I use it as setwork with my students) does not exhaust this excellently told story.
Jul 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
R.L. Anderson
Mar 19, 2012 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
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!!
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 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
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.
Mar 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Anette Lenk
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Graham Botha
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Maggie Luck
Oct 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure about everyone else on here but I've read the original, Afrikaans version of Kringe in 'n Bos. It is my prescribed book for the year so I had to read it, but by Joe was it worth it.

It is an amazing read. How Saul goes through a many different things and how him and Oupoot have such a connection. The ending was good in my opinion, it was a good place to stop. I was worried for a bit when some said it wasn't but then when finally seeing what the ending was i was surprised and happy.
Celeste Toet
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Een van ons voorgeskrewe lees boeke op skool in standerd 9 (2002) was een van my gunsteling en seker ook waarom dit een van die enigste boeke is wat ek kan onthou wat ons gelees het (behalwe vir Charlie and the Chocolate Factory op laerskool!). Ek was seker een van die min leerlinge wat hierdie boek gewilliglik tien keer oor gelees het.
Janey-Ann Van Schalkwyk
I read this in High School. I have to say, that it would not have meant as much to me if I read it on my own. The deeper meaning behind the book is beautiful and it stays with you forever.
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliantly wrote, playing off in different times, coming together as the story unfolds
Nog 'n boke wat ek oor en oor kan lees en wat altyd mooi sal bly.
Lorraine Sears
Mar 03, 2014 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
Feb 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.”

Amanda  Koker
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: afrikaans
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Morné Louw
Jun 16, 2013 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
Steve Mayberry
May 04, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 16, 2012 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.
Aug 22, 2015 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.
Bronwyn Pound
Jan 13, 2014 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.
Fatima Beg
May 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in social and natural history of South Africa and particularly Knysna
Recommended to Fatima by: La Luna book club members
Shelves: novels
Like the other two books by Dalene Matthee I've read it worthwhile when you are new in South Africa as I am. They provide wonderful descriptions of the famous Knysna forest and how people used to live there during the last two centuries.
Mar 09, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is school staple in South Africa and most kids have read it because of that. However, it is also a beautiful book that I would recommend to anyone interested in South Africa's history, environmental issues and Knysna.
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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
More about Dalene Matthee...

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