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4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,229 ratings  ·  190 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 out o ...more
Paperback, 630 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Tin House Books (first published 2006)
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Asteropê I searched my copy (ebook) and no word of that spelling could be found. I even just searched "kan" and just got "askance" and "Afrikaner"
I searched my copy (ebook) and no word of that spelling could be found. I even just searched "kan" and just got "askance" and "Afrikaner"
Searching "kaft" also turned nothing up.
Are you sure this is the correct spelling? (less)

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Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,229 ratings  ·  190 reviews

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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
James Murphy
Dec 08, 2010 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
May 20, 2015 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
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 matu
Clif Hostetler
Oct 22, 2011 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
Marie Theron
Aug 02, 2011 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 som
Jenny Benn
Mar 02, 2013 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
Beth Asmaa
Aug 02, 2011 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
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 di
Nov 28, 2011 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 mig
Aug 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the best novels I've read in the last five years.
Jun 26, 2017 added it

pg 161

I tried with this book but just could not get into it. There were 3 plot lines and I was only interested in 1. There was a lot of weird stuff too and the style of writing was really hard to keep up with. I got tired after a while
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ai. Incredible!
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 o
Jun 26, 2013 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 revie
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Once Van Nierkerk style becomes familiar, Agaat becomes an incredibly personal read. With her lyrical style (the translator mentions in advance the difficulty in translating some of the verses and period dependent colloquialism), she writes a story that takes place in a farm and the relationships that born and die. The story itself is a mask to the fundamental issue that the country is undergoing - apartheid. Agaat is born in the year apartheid was institutionalized. Thus begins her journey in a ...more
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
Aug 01, 2010 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
I don't think I will finish this.
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: race
There's really a lot to digest in this book, much of which I can't articulate because I'm still thinking about all the pieces of it - the psychology of power dynamics between races and sexes illustrated through relationships between husband and wife, master and slave, caretaker and patient, children and maternal figures, and many more. Not to mention, these roles aren't cut and dried, and some characters fill opposing sides of the power spectrum at various points in their lives.

Star Ryan
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Wow, what did I just read!? I mean that in the best possible way. This book can’t really be summed up in a mere review as there is way more to it than meets the eye. It taps into every aspect of being human and then some. I was not expecting it to be nearly as deep and engrossing as it was. It wasn’t an easy read but it is exquisitely presented with such unique subtleties as I don’t think I have ever experienced in a book before.
Paul Fulcher
Jun 15, 2014 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
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 bi
May 24, 2010 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
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a novel! The complex relationship between Milla, a South African farmer, and her servant Agaat is the heart of this story written by Marlene Van Niekerk and translated from the Afrikaans by
Michiel Heyns. When the book opens, Milla is completely bed-ridden, suffering from ALS, with Agaat as her only helper. Through diary entries, stream-of-consciousness passages (my least favorite parts), and flashback narrative, the truth of what happened between these two women is slowly revealed. I
Ayala Levinger
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Where do I start? This is such an exceptional book, both in subject and presentation. It tells the story of Milla, an afrikaner (white Dutch farmer in apartheid South Africa) who has ALS. The story is told from different points of view and time. The present 1996, the past around the 60's and her day journals.

It is also the story of Agaat. saved as a child from "black life" just to belong nowhere because she could never be white and being betrayed when a white substitute came along.
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 jo
Oct 12, 2011 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
Mar 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a difficult book to read, and as with the other Marlene van Niekerk novel, Triomf, I don't quite know what to make of this story. What made it difficult to read is the constant switching between the past and present and then the rambling thoughts of Milla are scattered in between as well. That said, it was well worth the time and I can feel this story will be with me for a while.
Feb 15, 2009 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.
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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 filmed in 2 ...more
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