How can you speak when speech has been taken away? When the only person listening refuses to understand? Milla, trapped in silence by a deadly paralysing illness, confined to her bed, struggles to make herself heard by her maidservant and now nurse, Agaat. Contrary, controlling, proud, secretly affectionate, the two women, servant and mistress, are more than matched. Life for white farmers like Milla in the South Africa of the 1950s was full of promise - newly married, her future held the thrilling challenges of creating her own farm and perhaps one day raising children. Forty years later, the world Milla knew is as if seen in a mirror, and all she has left are memories and diaries. As death draws near, she looks back on good intentions and soured dreams, on a brutal marriage and a longed-for only son scarred by his parents' battles, and on a lifetime's tug-of-war with Agaat. As Milla's old white world recedes, in the new South Africa her guardian's is ever more filled with the prospect of freedom. Marlene Van Niekerk's is a stunning new literary voice from South Africa, to compare to J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer.
** 'THE WAY OF THE WOMEN combines the stark intensity of a remarkable death-bed chamber piece, which none the less contains humour, with a compendious sweep from 19th-century boomtime in the Cape to the Angolan war' GUARDIAN ** 'Ambitious and loaded with a narrative energy you will not find - at the same pitch or in the same range - in the work of any of the big names in South African writing ... A masterpiece has arrived' South African SUNDAY TIMES ** 'Fascinating and moving, this is, above all, a love story' Kate Saunders, THE TIMES ** 'These are huge subjects ... Without a doubt a novel of ideas but also a very musical one, an 'act of writing' in which van Niekerk poetically breathes new life and new possibility into the country' VRIJ NEDERLAND ** 'Voluminous, detailed, momentous ... It is an allegory of colonial exploitation, apartheid and the precarious steps towards reconcilliation' INDEPENDENT ** 'Startlingly profound ... Funny, playful ... Important ...For all of its narrative contortions, its allusive richness and the honesty of its truth-seeking, it will perhaps be seen as a landmark South African novel.' NEW STATESMAN ** 'It is the most important [South African novel] since Coetzee's Disgrace (1999). But even such a considerable claim fails to credit this book with the serious artistic achievement it represents. It is a grandly operatic epic in a manner now rarely attempted and more rarely achieved with formal complexity and ingenuity. This is a narrative creation of the highest order' TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT ** 'A wonderful read for dark January nights' GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, Book of the Month ** 'The plangent knots of this epic and moving opus echo long after the final chapter' SUNDAY BUSINESS POST ** 'It is a grandly operatic epic in a manner now rarely attempted and more rarely achieve with such formal complexity and ingenuity. This is a narrative creation of the highest order' TLS ** 'A polyphonic novel that sows many voices into its fertile soil ... A narrative that focuses a wide sweep of events and emotions into the bond of mistress and maid' INDEPENDENT
Marlene van Niekerk was born in 1954 and grew up on a farm in the Caledon district of South Africa's Cape. She studied philosophy, languages and literature at the universities of Stellenbosch, Amsterdam and Witwatersrand, where she now lectures in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch.