Artslink reviews “Under the African Sun”

Under the African Sun cover

Under the African Sun by Gail Gilbride

Jennifer de Klerk

04/19/2017 15:22:30

Jennifer de Klerk: South African author Gail Gilbride has produced a fast-paced romance that is steeped in the sights, sounds and scents of Africa.

Specifically, this is South Africa in 1976, a time of brewing turmoil which is largely hidden from the young white students and liberals dancing on the edge of the abyss.

Deborah is young, smart, beautiful and very much in love. She relishes all that Cape Town has to offer, convivial evenings at the Pig pub with her friends with Bye Bye Miss American Pie on the radio, swimming at Clovelly, hiking up Constantia Nek, canoeing on the Berg River, the homely cottage in Rondebosch she shares with her friend Julia.

Gilbride writes with authenticity and a semi-autobiographical twang, vividly capturing the settings and experiences, from the clack, clack of the train from the Transvaal, to the fierce Highveld storms and purple jacaranda streets of Pretoria, to bluebottles on the beach, the smell of curry cooking and the moon above Lion’s Head.

All innocent Deborah wants to do is skate along the surface, live and love, but her job as an intern on a Cape Town newspaper exposes her to a grittier side of life, especially when she shadows Charlie, the political reporter. Gradually too, she learns that her beloved, idealised Chris is also involved in the political underground.

Along with the usual romantic insecurities … he loves me, he loves me not … Deborah has to contend with fear, both for herself and for Chris, especially when she realises her telephone is bugged and she is taken in for questioning by the security police. Such were the times.

Gilbride does an effective job of characterising Deborah through the painful process of growing up. Supporting characters, though, particularly the saintly Julia, remain in monochrome. Handsome and controlling Chris also only becomes three dimensional in the final chapters which take an unexpected twist, breaking the mould of what started as a rather cloying girly romance.

For those who remember how it was, this breathless novel is both entertaining and chilling, bringing back not only those heady times of love and friendship, when the future was open-ended and enticing, but also the confusion, fear, guilt and anger that churned underneath.

Under the African Sun by Gail Gilbride
Cactus Rain Publishing
ISBN 978-0-9962812-5-6

Inquiries: Caroline Konstant
084 8172 405

Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za

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