Betsy Klein is summoned from New York to the bedside of her dying father. The father who is the main protagonists is lying in coma, and already exists only as a memory in the mind of his loving daughter who takes us through his journey from his adolescence in the rural western cape to becoming a man as a student in Cape Town and beyond that to her experience of him as a father teaching her to row on on a river near George.
One cannot help the feeling that these are actual memories from a real life. The first part for me was fascinating as it traced some of South Africa’s history during the great wars. It also drew random pictures of the life of a Jewish family in George. The writer did not shy away from describing the father as he truly was, a lover of nature, a helpful physician but also a stubborn brute with evil temper and embarrassing outbursts. The father as the central character played out his role as son, orphan, jealous brother, adolescent at the cusp of his first sexual experience, student away from and home, suitor, doctor, husband, father, father-in-law and patient. All of his roles were refreshingly real and flawed, his frail humanity showing at every stage.
The book reminded me a collage, a collection of memories with Harold Klein at their center, it was all too obvious that the book will inevitably end with his death, but I was hoping for a more fitting farewell something more substantial. His death when it came was like an exhalation of a final breath, quick, silent and anti-climatic.
This a thought-provoking literary book for someone who wants something a little challenging.