Tuesday, January 17, 2012

REVIEW: Moffie, by André Carl van der Merwe

Moffie, by André Carl van der Merwe. Published 2011 by Europa Editions.

It's been kind of a while since I read a book that blew me away like Moffie did. It's a searing, heartrending story about a young white South African man called up for national service and hiding the fact that he's gay.

The kind of opposition that the main character and narrator, Nicholas, faces, is almost a little difficult to understand in the liberal bubble I live in. His father is a hyper-masculine chauvinist. His mother is more sensitive but cowers behind her husband. His father pressures him relentlessly to be conventional and successful, beats him when he steps out of line, ridicules him endlessly. Being nonathletic or artistic is bad enough; if Nicholas were unsuccessful his father says he would pass him by on the street. But if Nicholas were gay, a "moffie" in South African slang, his father says it would be "the end." Nicholas doesn't even want to know what his father means by that. The army is the solution, according to his father, the thing that will make a man out of his unsatisfactory son.

When Nicholas enters the army he enters an environment even more ruthless and punishing than his home. But it's in the army that Nicholas meets gay friends, falls in love, and comes to believe in himself. He encounters unspeakable brutality, scarring tragedy and horrors beyond his imagination, but he also learns about loyalty, friendship and bonds that will last a lifetime. He also learns how to use his religious faith to get him through the trials of army life and how to move forward with pride and confidence.

Moffie is the kind of book that tears you to shreds only to piece you back together. A longish book that reads like lightning,  it's not perfect; the tone can be a little overwrought at times, and there are a couple of unlikely coincidences that are poetic in their way but maybe unrealistic. That's okay. The narrative alternates between Nicholas' army time and his childhood, showing how he became the man he is, and ends on a dual note of horror and hope. An intense, demanding book, Moffie should be required reading not just for LGBT-interested readers but for anyone. If you're doing an LGBT- or African-literature challenge this year, I urge you to add Moffie to your reading list.  I think it may have replaced Broken Glass Park as my favorite Europa and it will certainly show up in my top reads of 2012. What a book!

It's my first read of 2012 for the Europa Challenge!

Rating: Are you kidding? BUY
Moffie
by Andre Carl Van Der Merwe
Powells.com
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales. 

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

12 comments:

Beth Hoffman said...

You've hooked me! When a long book "reads like lightning" that says it all. I'll add this to my list today!

bermudaonion said...

I'm sad to say that I still see prejudices like that where I live. This book sounds powerful and important. I'm adding it to my wish list.

Anna said...

I'll definitely keep this one in mind. It does sound like a worthwhile read, though not something I usually would pick up. Great review!

Zibilee said...

I bet Amy of Amy Reads would love this one, and I am going to point her towards your review. I also think that I would like it, and you are right, it does indeed sound searing and potent. I need to look for this one when I can. It seems like a remarkable book. Terrific review today, Marie!

Audra said...

This sounds amazing -- totally adding this to my TBR -- I might try to read in Feb!

EnriqueFreeque said...

tears you to shreds only to piece you back together again ... yeah! Right on. Those are the best kind of books.

Europa editions, you may already know, will be releasing Steve Erickson's next novel in a few weeks, These Dreams of You (they also published his last novel, Zeroville) so I'll definitely be climbing aboard the Europa wagon very soon myself.

Ted said...

Sounds really good, Marie - how have I never heard of this one?! Thanks for letting us know about it.

Kathleen said...

This sounds like a touching and thought-provoking read.

Bailey Snyman said...

I have just made a dance interpretation of the Novel in South Africa in collaboration with the Author and it truly is an inspired narrative.

Rudi said...

I am South African, just a few years younger than the author and was lucky enough to escape the compulsory military two years before it was abolished after Nelson Mandela's release (due to study exemption). From what I lived vicariously through my friends who did go to the Army, it is very truthful to what has happened in our country. It is a must read.

Rudi said...

I am younger than the author, but lived through the same in South Africa as a young man - I managed to evade the compulsory military conscription through studies and because it was abolished when Mandela was freed. I have lived through the Army years however, and heard first-hand accounts from my friends who did go when they had weekend leave (which was seldom) and it is all true as set out in the book. Please also bear in mind thus the book is semi-autobiographical and not entirely fiction. It is a must read ...

Marie said...

Rudi, thank you for commenting! I really appreciate it and I'm glad to hear that you loved it too.