Child of the River

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Book Review: Child of the River

Author: Irma Joubert

Review by Grace Olson

The Story

Back Cover from Book Look Blogger’s website for Child of the River:

A compelling coming of age story with an unlikely and utterly memorable heroine, Child of the River is a timeless tale of heartbreak and triumph set in South Africa at the dawn of apartheid.

Persomi is young, white, and poor, born the middlea child of illiterate sharecroppers on the prosperous Fourie farm in the South African Bushveld. Persomi’s world is extraordinarily small. She has never been to the local village and spends her days absorbed in the rhythms of the natural world around her, escaping the brutality and squalor of her family home through the newspapers and books passed down to her from the main house and through her walks in the nearby mountains.

Persomi’s close relationship with her older brother Gerbrand and her fragile friendship with Boelie Fourie—heir to the Fourie farm and fortune—are her lifeline and her only connection to the outside world. When Gerbrand leaves the farm to fight on the side of the Anglos in WWII and Boelie joins an underground network of Boer nationalists, Persomi’s isolated world is blown wide open. But as her very small world falls apart, bigger dreams become open to her—dreams of an education, a profession, a native country that values justice and equality, and of love. As Persomi navigates the changing world around her—the tragedies of war and the devastating racial strife of her homeland—she finally discovers who she truly is, where she belongs, and why her life—and every life—matters.

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            This book was not what I expected. I definitely thought it would have more focus on World War II, but while that was not the case, I got sucked into this story in ways I didn’t expect.

Child of the River is a break from what I normally read. The story did not have a strong Christian story line. It does mention faith a few times, but reads more like a general market novel. This book is unique and seeks to challenge commonly held views. I can see why Ms. Joubert has had such success in publishing.

I had never read anything set in South Africa, let alone during this particular time period, so I loved being able to learn about that specific geographical and historical era. I’ve read many books set during WWII, but none dealing with what Ms. Joubert addresses. Persomi’s past is tragic, at best. And though the author dealt with the deep issues in Persomi’s family in a tactful way, it was still difficult to read about what her sister went through. Prejudice runs deep in this time period, in many different forms, and Ms. Joubert seeks to turn that on its head as Persomi views the world in a different way than many in her community. I couldn’t say that I agreed with her perspective on everything, but it was still intriguing to read about.

My heart broke for Persomi as she encountered success, then setback, over and over in her family life, social life, and love life. It really seemed like she would never reach that point of happiness, but in the end she did, without cutting any corners or cheating, which I have the highest respect for.

This book is thick, but it swept me away. I couldn’t tear myself away, which resulted in a few late nights, and sleep that this college student couldn’t afford to lose. 😉 Ms. Joubert writes with a talent that springs off the pages into the reader’s mind, and creates sweeping landscapes, raging emotions, and challenging viewpoints. If you’re a lover of history, of learning new things, and of fantastic writing (in the general market sense) then you need to at least think about picking up Child of the River. Now I just need to back track and read her first book published in the U.S., The Girl from the Train.

About the Author

Biography from Goodread’s website: International bestselling author Irma Joubert was a history teacher for 35 years before she began writing. Her stories are known for their deep insight into personal relationships and rich historical detail. She’s the author of eight novels and a regular fixture on bestseller lists in The Netherlands and in her native South Africa. She is the winner of the 2010 ATKV Prize for Romance Novels.

I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own.

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