Summary and book reviews of Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard

Skinner's Drift

By Lisa Fugard

Skinner's Drift
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2006,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2006,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

Ten years after leaving South Africa, the country of her birth and the place where her mother died, Eva van Rensburg returns to her dying father, a violent man whose terrible secret Eva has kept since she was a child.

In this beautiful first novel, Lisa Fugard paints a haunting portrait of a family careering toward disaster. She vividly describes the isolation of Eva's rebellious and lonely English mother; the desperation of her Afrikaner father as drought destroys his farm; the conflicts among the black farm-workers as the younger generation questions the loyalty and subservience of their elders; and the dangerous silence of a young girl who witnesses too much.

Like Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee, Fugard has written a profoundly moving family drama, subtly set against the backdrop of a country in turmoil. She moves with extraordinary agility between intimate and revelatory domestic scenes and the fiercely challenging land. This is a powerful story from a stunning new writer.

Chapter One

September 1997

Eva pressed her forehead to the window and watched the ruffle of waves rimming the coastline recede from view as the plane nosed its way toward Johannesburg. The dirt roads were visible, clawed into a land pitted and scarred by drought. She knew the hell of driving them, how dusty and worn she'd feel after jolting along one, nothing to look at for hour upon hour but rocks and thorn trees. Maybe, if she was lucky, a jackal, a snake. Africa lay stretched beneath her like the ravaged hide of some ancient beast, and something fierce shuddered inside her, a love that startled her and set off another round of tears.

The girls sitting behind her were talking to one another. Sixteen hours into the flight and she still couldn't identify the language, definitely not Xhosa, she hadn't heard any of the characteristic clicks, and not Sotho because she would surely have recognized the rhythms if not any of the words. At least they ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. It has been ten years since Eva left South Africa when she returns to see her dying father. She still holds a great deal of ill will toward her country and her family. What do you think Eva is expecting to find upon her return? What does she actually discover about her country and herself?
     
  2. How do you think growing up on Skinner's Drift affected Eva physically, mentally and emotionally? What links can you make between her behavior in the present and the incidents of her past?
     
  3. If you are familiar with South Africa's history, particularly regarding race relations and the events of the 1980s that form the backdrop of Skinner's Drift, discuss how the novel foreshadows what is to come in...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Carolyn See

Africa itself comes through here, loud and clear and bold. And if the fictional Eva has trouble contending with her heritage, the author has her own daunting legacy: her father, the distinguished playwright Athol Fugard. This novel should be "read with compassion and an open mind," Alexandra Fuller writes in a generous, glowing blurb, and she's right. Skinner's Drift takes a dense, inexplicable, utterly perplexing subject and makes it readable in spite of itself, which turns out to be a fine and admirable accomplishment.

Booklist

Starred Review. Always there are the sounds, smells, light, and color of the veld and, especially, of the animal life, more than backdrop, through the long years of drought and then the thrill of rain.

Library Journal - Kellie Gillespie

Set against the vivid landscape and wildlife of the African landscape, this first novel conveys a message of redemption and forgiveness that holds true whether it's concerning a country and its people or a father and his daughter.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A vivid sense of place and an effective dramatic arc distinguish this debut novel ...Fugard captivates with this searing personal portrayal of the legacy of apartheid.

Kirkus Reviews

Fugard's plot is gripping and her prose is effortless, but what is most impressive is her ability to effectively explore broad themes through a family story. A dazzling debut.

Author Blurb Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
...The landscape and characters ring true, the tone and the dialogue are just right. It is books like this -- books that shake the dust out of our heads and hearts -- that allow us all to understand our past slightly better and walk forward more confidently. It should be read the way it was written -- with compassion and an open mind.

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Beyond the Book

About the author: Lisa Fugard was born in South Africa, the daughter of acclaimed playwright Athol Fugard. She came to the United States in 1980 to pursue her acting career. She has written many articles for The New York Times travel section and this is her first novel. She lives in the desert of Southern California.

About the excerpt: There are a number of words in the excerpt which can be understood in the context of the book, but still my interest was piqued to find out exactly what they meant. Here are the results of my research!

Alldays: The town where Lisa last saw her father is a small town in the Limpopo province, the northernmost province in South Africa.
Dominee: pastor.
Rinkhal: a cobra indigenous to ...

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