A century ago, one of the five most recognizable names in the world was arguably that of Paul Krüger, president of the Transvaal Republic-a small Southern African country inhabited by a white tribe-who took on the overwhelming superiority of the mighty British Empire in defense of his people's sovereign independence. It was a David and Goliath story. As most of the world-including the US-cheered the Boers on, they fought a desperate war to the bitter end (1899-1902) against colonialism, until their country lay smoldering in ruins and an estimated 27, 929 Boer women and children, as well as an untold number of blacks, had died in British concentration camps. Yet within little more than half a century, those same Afrikaners had squandered their political capital and gone from being the world's favorite underdog to one of the most reviled names in history. Their subsequent social engineering project known as apartheid became an abhorrent concept in the eyes of the international community. Bernard Botes Krüger is a fifth-generation descendant of the wartime president, Paul Krüger. He is an Afrikaner who lived most of his life in the turmoil and conflict that has dominated his country's history. His new historical novel, A Battlement of Spears, tells the remarkable story of how not only the Afrikaners, but also the many other former sovereign nations within the redrawn borders of the postwar South Africa struggled to come to terms with a common identity, often with devastating consequences. "What cruel twist of tectonic irony caused the deepest scar on the earth's surface across the face of that continent that would also suffer the most appalling of human tragedies?" the author asks. Set against the backdrop of the timeless mountain called in Zulu uKhahlamba (Barrier of Spears), a dramatic geographic boundary that divided nations throughout history, A Battlement of Spears is an epic story spanning twenty-four years and two continents, of two young men with similar interests but vastly different cultural backgrounds who become unlikely friends. In a tragic series of events they will discover what sacrifices are exacted from those who would dwell in the symbolic no man's land of the summit, where fog often obscures the vision and deprivation dulls the senses, until it becomes all too easy to drift into hostile territory or stumble into the jaws of the precipice. In the process they will become separated, spending a lifetime before finding each other again a world away, on a different continent. But in the course of their respective journeys, they will also learn that barriers are not always what they seem, and that choices are sometimes inevitable, with far-reaching consequences. In that hauntingly beautiful land it is never merely about survival, but about the things that make it truly worthwhile, such as loyalty, friendship and honor, regardless of the price. Written in a style that endeavors to entertain while enlightening the uninformed about South Africa's long road to democracy, the book provides extensive background explanations (yes, footnotes) to those interested in the historical, anthropological or linguistic aspects of a 'rainbow nation,' which today recognizes eleven official languages and several royal families, besides a multitude of unofficial languages and dialects. And while A Battlement of Spears is a work of fiction, based, according to the author, on "countless true stories," it becomes evident within the first few pages that many of the events portrayed are too detailed and specific not to have been experienced by someone. Some elements of the story are unmistakably autobiographical, but much of it simply represents the collective consciousness of a people struggling to find solutions.
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Published May 2, 2006