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Pan Macmillan

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

He had removed the notepad abruptly, locked it in a drawer, his eyes telling her that he did not want to discuss what she had read – read an excerpt from Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit

The last time Silas Ali encountered Lieutenant Du Boise, Silas was locked in the back of a police van and the lieutenant was conducting a vicious assault on Silas’s wife, Lydia, in revenge for her husband’s participation in Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

When Silas sees Du Boise by chance twenty years later, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to deliver its report, crimes from the past erupt into the present, splintering the Alis’ fragile peace.

A clear-eyed story of a brittle family on the crossroads of history and a fearless skewering of the pieties of revolutionary movements, Bitter Fruit is a cautionary tale of how we do, or do not, address the deepest wounds of the past.

‘Freshness and bold vividness are the qualities of Achmat Dangor’s writing … inn the post-apartheid era, he has tackled, in Bitter Fruit, as in Kafka’s Curse, with the honesty of his insight, the problem as well as the promised fulfilment of the enormous change that freedom brings about.’ – Nadine Gordimer

Achmat Dangor lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has published four novels, Waiting for Leila (1981), The Z Town Trilogy (1990), Kafka’s Curse (1997) and Bitter Fruit (first released in 2001), as well as a short-story collection, Strange Pilgrimages (2013).

Bitter Fruit was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for 2004 as well as the 2003 International Dublin Impac Award. Dangor’s new novel, Dikeledi, will be released in August 2017.

Chapter 14

THE DAY HAD passed uneventfully. The President had had to leave the meeting early. A confrontation brewing between ‘the Arch’ and people in the movement. He was to meet with all sides, try to find a dignified way out of ‘the mess’.

‘Silas Ali, he works for the Minister, he’s a good man, is he?’ the President had asked no one in particular, but everyone around the table had nodded their agreement. The Old Man’s way of confirming something he already believed.

In the end, no one had mentioned Kate’s dress, and she had begun to feel uncomfortable.

Cold semen did not feel sensual on the skin. As soon as she could, she left work, drove home and lay in a hot bath for an hour, trying to stem her renewed feeling of disquiet. Before leaving the office, she had asked Van As, the President’s security chief, if he could locate security records on ‘François du Boise, a Lieutenant in the old Special Branch’.

Major Rudy van As had been in the old security police himself. His transformation into loyal guardian of the new order was complete, and fierce. Du Boise? The name did not sound familiar, he said. There had been thousands of foot soldiers, but he would see if he could get anything out of archives. Major Van As’s smug voice, his neutral smile. He was living up to the cliché of the inscrutable old security policeman.

Afterwards, she regretted having asked him at all, bewildered by her own impulsiveness. Draped in the loose gown she wore when there was no one home, she lay sprawled out by the pool, sipping a glass of wine. Her dogs, three huge German shepherds, clamoured for attention, pressing their noses against her. So much to be done, and here she was lazing about, breaking a house rule: no alcohol before five on a weekday. A gesture of restraint meant to impress Ferial. We lead by example. She quickly dismissed her guilt. She worked hard, put in many hours, this bit of indulgence was deserved.

Her thoughts drifted back to the morning’s events. How had Mikey known that his mother was coming?

There had been no warning, no phone call, no knock on the door, just this crazy kid standing at the window, sensing his mother’s imminent arrival.

Michael the Phenomenal.

Always probing, lately, asking questions about the amnesty process, things he should ask his father, not someone he’s just had sex with. Perhaps trying to demonstrate his intelligence, not just a young kid only good for fucking.

There was no doubting how bright he was. She saw the evidence of it all around him, the books on his shelf (without order, a random collection of truly intimidating titles), the music he listened to. Once, she’d glanced at some notes on his desk and was startled to read the beginnings of an analysis of the liberation struggle: there had never been an ‘armed struggle’, the movement had had more of an armed propaganda ability than any ‘real capacity to wage even a limited war’.

He had removed the notepad abruptly, locked it in a drawer, his eyes telling her that he did not want to discuss what she had read.

He had all the hallmarks of a driven person. A quest for truth, or justice, that grand kind of thing. She’d seen that ruthless gleam in people’s eyes before, the holy, malevolent clarity of someone obsessed.

Bitter Fruit

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