Life is well regulated in South Africa at the end of the 1980s. Apartheid rules and black and white only meet when the former serves or received commands from the later. Thing are only slightly different in the Jewish Helger household in Johannesburg; having survived the Holocaust, the parents developed a more humane attitude than most of their white fellows. Yet, their routines change with the arrival of an American exchange teacher. Annie Goldberg has come to teach at a primary school in one of the townships – a place none of the Helger family would ever go to. 16-year-old Martin is fascinated by the pretty and radical woman. Her political opinion drastically differs from his parents’ point of view and soon he finds himself in the middle of the struggles to fight for freedom for the oppressed peoples’ hero Nelson Mandela.
The beginning of the novel is immediately captivating. Just as Martin is fascinated by this strange American, the reader also falls for her charisma. She is a freedom fighter who can easily convince her audience with her statements on the current political situation in a way that you just have to agree – knowing that things might be a lot more complicated. The double complex of having a Jewish survivor family who went through oppression by the Nazi regime gives the novel an even more complicated background.
I especially appreciated the long debates between the Helgers and Goldberg, they gave a precise picture of South Africa of that time and the contradicting positions were thus well established. However, even though this was very interesting, it did not add to the suspense. Since the novel is promoted as “literary thriller”, I’d have expected a bit more of that.
At some point of the story, I got a bit lost. Even though I liked the protagonist Martin and his development is well motivated and largely plausible, the plot was a bit unsatisfactory. At the end, I even had the impression that there was a certain lack of idea of how to finish it at all, the solution chosen did everything but convince me. All in all, I had the impression that the novel wanted to be too much: a thriller, historical fiction, coming-of-age and also the specific aspects of the surviving Jew – it obviously cannot serve all expectations aroused and therefore to conclude, it is only partly recommendable.