The Scattering brings to life a brutal time in Namibian history, writes Jacqui L’Ange for the Sunday Times
Lauri Kubuitsile (Penguin Random House)
Lauri Kubuitsile insists that she didn’t want to write a book about war. She wanted to write a novel that transcended the statistics, one that made war real through individual stories. The Scattering does that and more. She has created an epic tale of love in a time of horror.
This book is not for the faint-hearted. It tells the story of genocide, the decimation of a people who never lived to tell their personal stories. It’s also a reminder that a love that survives war cannot always withstand a hatred turned inward.
This is the story of Tjipuka, a young Herero woman with the world at her feet. She and her husband are expecting their first child. They plan to grow their herd and family in Okahandja, where their people have always lived and farmed. She’s a little afraid of her own happiness.
Tjipuka thinks the ancestors might punish her for loving Ruhapo too much, but she pushes such fears aside. While it’s true that the German colonial authorities are throwing their weight around, the head-strong Ruhapo assures her that the Germans will see sense in the face of reasonable arguments – and a show of Herero force.
Ruhapo is horribly wrong. He will never recover from that fact, as Tjipuka will never give in to the brutalities that await her when the Germans issue their extermination order: any Herero found inside the frontier will be executed. Tjipuka’s people flee into the desert, heading for British Bechuanaland. Some of them starve on the dry sands, some in the Lüderitz death camp. Tjipuka is among the “handful of broken people” who survive. She is captured, escapes and is recaptured; she loses everything, and almost everyone, she loves. But she never loses faith in her future.
“I love our inconsistencies and our internal conflicts,” says Kubuitsile. “The convoluted ways we bend our thoughts to rationalise our actions, to justify what we do, even the most horrible acts. We’re not always good; if we were I would have long left human stories and started writing about warthogs or baobab trees. Some of the scenes made me sad. Sometimes reading them, even now, I cry. But that’s okay, I’m human too; we are a magnificently resilient sort of animal.”
It’s not giving anything away to tell you that Tjipuka is reunited with her husband, after believing him dead in battle and almost dying herself many times over. The book begins with the couple in a tender moment, together but separated by a vast emotional gulf; the story tracks back to their wrenching separation.
It also follows another woman who finds herself the victim of a nearby war: Riette is the daughter of a boer who crushes her ambitions to study nursing by forcing her into an unwanted marriage. When their family is swept up in the Anglo-Boer War, she is interned in a British concentration camp. Her path crosses Tjipuka’s, and both are reminded that there is good in the world, and in the people who manage to connect beyond bloodlust and greed.
Riette rails against war as she tends to Tjipuka’s injuries. “Over and over they do it. Men fight, men make war that destroys everything, and women carry the wounds, they clean it up. They rub it away, and they go on. On and on. And yet men pound their chests and say we are the winners. What? What? What do they win?”
Kubuitsile says this is herself speaking through Riette. “There’s nothing good about war, despite what so many shiny medals and marble statues might try to tell us. Nothing.”
But there is a great deal of good in this book. Do the brave thing, and read it.
Follow Jacqui L’Ange @jaxangel