Fred Khumalo’s book centered around the event of the sinking of the SS Mendi in 1917, starts in 1958, when our hero, the head waiter in a French restaurant, ostensibly from Algeria, just eight months away from retirement, suddenly stabs two patrons to death.
The narrative moves back to the Second Anglo Boer War (1899-1902), then through some of South Africa’s racial history told from the point of view of Pitso, the waiter of the opening chapter. It moves through the post war era in France. Pitso’s story is always fascinating, and one gets caught up in what is an excellent tale, well told. The characters are richly created and one gets the wonderful sense of conflict between the good and bad within themselves, regardless of race.
This is the centenary year of the sinking of the SS Mendi on 21 February 1917 when a large cargo steamship, the SS Darro, hit her mid-on in the English Channel just south of the Isle of Wight, then failed to stop to assist her passengers. 646 passengers died, 616 of them black labour troops who signed on to fight in the hope that they would earn rights to vote and own land. The book is timed to take advantage of this.
At no point during my reading of the book was I plagued by historical inaccuracies and anachronisms and I commend the author for his meticulous research brought to life in this South African novel. While the accuracy is excellent, it is the human drama of the book that makes it so readable.
I give the book 5/5.
- Title: Dancing the Death Drill
- Author: Fred Khumalo
- Publisher: Umuzi (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
- Year: 2017
- Format: Paperback
- Recommended Selling Price: R230