Publication date 2010
RRP R 180
Award-winning Michiel Heyns returns with a richly textured novel set in contemporary South Africa.
The murder of a beautiful woman shatters the rural village peace of Alfredville, and her husband, the police station commander, is jailed as chief suspect. Her cousin Peter, a freelance writer in London, returns to South Africa for the first time in decades – unsettled, curious, but also in search of a career-defining story. On checking into the Queen’s Hotel he finds that things are not as straightforward as he imagined, and South Africa is not as he left it. His carefully ordered world is thrown into turmoil as his trip dredges up a long-abandoned past, forcing him to question the assumptions so easily held from the comfort of his London flat.
He meets a mixture of locals, visitors, vagrants and migrants, but most momentously, Peter discovers that his bosom friend from school, Bennie Nienaber, is still in Alfredville – and is in fact now, acting station commander at the local police station. Peter re-establishes an awkward friendship with his erstwhile friend and the two warily circle each other, sharing reminiscences that hint at a bond much deeper than nostalgia.
As Peter abandons the neatly patterned story he had planned and is forced to participate in a community that he once despised, he begins to reconsider his place in the world. In search of Desirée’s story, he now starts to rewrite his own – till events take an even more shocking turn…
Lost Ground explores questions of xenophobia and prejudice, of national, sexual and personal identity, and what it means to be a foreigner wherever you go.
Lost Ground is a superbly crafted and compelling portrayal of loss and discovery. Heyns writes with absolute honesty, exploring the human condition with deep compassion and wit. His story transcends the confines of a small-town location to expose the innate insecurities that determine all of our relationships, struck through with irony and regret. Heyns writes with such grace and dignity, he deserves our praise and unqualified envy. Andrew Brown
Lost Ground is so much more than just great storytelling. It is Heyns’ mastery of language, his wonderful sense of place, and deftly drawn characters that make this book superlative. I loved it. Deon Meyer
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