Harry Mac’s son is Tom, and he is the rather startling narrator of this harrowing tale. Harrowing? Well, the setting is the township of Pietermaritzburg , where the author grew up, and where momentous events were taking place in the South Africa of the 60s. “The Jews, the Africans, the Indians and the English speakers….. the Nats hate them all and they are now running the country.”So when Tm overhears his father and a neighbour seemingly plotting a diabolical plan, it all makes sense to him. After all Nelson Mandela is on the run, so there was every reason to think that the turmoil would continue. With Tom’s father a fearless newspaper editor, anything could happen. Harry Mac had three moods, moods which Tom and his older brother, Little Harry, learned to dread. Anger at everything, rage at the family, but worst of all, silence, which could “last for days”.
Because he had suffered with polio, Tom missed out on the worst of his moods, but he understood he had to respect them, and learn to live with them. The family lived down a lane near the edge of town, where secrets seem to multiply overnight. Tom, and Millie, his best friend, discuss these problems endlessly, but cannot solve them, particularly as Millie is Jewish, and her immediate family appears to be at greater risk than the others who live in the lane. Might they, as so many others have done, “disappear in the night.”
This tumultuous period of South Africa’s history is fertile ground for Eldridge, and he certainly makes the most of it. Knowing little of the terror and prejudices of this time, I learned a lot, as I was gripped by this unfolding story. The historical notes at the close of the book were most helpful, but I would also have liked a glossary of Africaan’s words, which would have helped me follow the narrative more easily. Nonetheless HARRY MAC remains one of the better novels I have read all this year.
by RUSSELL ELDRIDGE
PUBLISHED by ALLEN & UNWIN
for a recommended $29.99