Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Marlene van Niekerk's Agaat

Translated into English by Michiel Heyns
A paralyzed Afrikaner woman, Milla, stricken with ALS that leaves her not only mute, but entirely dependent on her Black caretaker, Agaat. She reminisces about her life, her abusive marriage, and the son she loves. In the hands of a lesser writer Marlene van Niekerk's second novel, "Agaat." would surely have descended into saccharine melodrama. Instead, with poetic prose and a perfectly pitched narrative voice, van Niekerk weaves a complex intimacy between these two women, whose lives have been inseparably bound by knots so intricate they cannot even be undone by death. Agaat's attention, at times loving and others sadistic, speaks volumes, and it is in these scenes where "Agaat" most sings, enveloped in an achingly beautiful claustrophobia and  finely rendered.

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