Finding Soutbek is Jennings’ debut novel. It is slowly mesmerising and enchanting in its progression of events. A fake history that is allegedly untold, intertwined with the actual suffering of a South African town. Jennings writes in a quiet and fulfilling manner.
The treacherous Mayor of Soutbek—Pieter Fortuin—and his horrible allegorical “The History”, one that he carved out for himself and fed to his town and family, is presented to the reader as a cruel betrayal. The first book his wife, Anna, learns to read is actually dictated by him.
Jennings presses deeper and deeper into the real history and the lives of her South African town, much like the progression of the Dutch explorer Pieter von Meerman, a fantastical tale that runs parallel. She also employs words in Dutch and Afrikaans in her tale of “The History” and of Soutbek, which gives an impression of authenticity, an enriching feel, which is later revealed to be a “tragic irony.”
The finding and founding of Soutbek is based on fables and lies; a pseudo-Utopia, a rainbow nation in a town that does not exist and never really will.
The turning point of the novel is the juxtaposition of Anna’s, the Mayor’s wife, extreme moment of happiness and her destructive realisation of what was previously thought to be true.
The juxtaposition is enforced by the story of the founding of Soutbek, told by Oom Bekkie, by a woman and a man of the sea, and the fallacy of the Mayor, of “Pieter van Meerman”—a name that, in clarity, ironically bears the name of the Mayor, a nod at Dutch extraction, and the word Merman; suddenly child-like, when revealed, in its composition.
Jennings points to the corruption apparent in South Africa, the continued unsolved poverty and prejudice. She describes a reflection of the “sore reality” in the West Coast of South Africa today.
For the reader who enjoys understated narrative of many layers and revelations.
Memorable quote: “For Willem patterns began to emerge. He came to believe that history was not about dates and people. It was about mastery; the mastery of others and the mastery of land.”
Finding Soutbek is published by Holland Park Press, 2012