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Elegy for an African Farm

by John Conyngham

In 1977, when John Conyngham was twenty-three, the sugar farm of his childhood and youth was sold. Driven by a sense of loss, he wrote his acclaimed novel The Arrowing of the Cane. Now, decades later, he returns to where his story began, to capture a world before it fades forever. Hazara is a lyrical memoir of a family and a farm. It is about a homestead in a park-like garden among cane fields, within sight of the Indian Ocean. It is about sons fighting in wars and daughters nursing in military hospitals. It is about tennis parties, and drinks on the veranda. It is about people who love Africa but know they don't fully belong.

After their marriage in 1924, a young couple named Mia and James settle on the Natal coast, just south of the Zululand border, intending to establish themselves and start a family. Before long they name their farm Hazara, after James's former regiment in the British Indian Army. Like other planters scattered across the countryside, they socialise with neighbours and have visitors to stay in their house with its view eastwards to the Indian Ocean. Then, after a chain of fateful occurrences, into this isolated world of sugar-cane farming, with its horse riding and games of tennis and charades, there arrives from England a girl named Anne. In World War II, James serves in North Africa while Mia and Anne remain on the farm and like other wives and daughters provide a surrogate home for Royal Navy sailors whose ships are undergoing repairs in Durban harbour. Later, back to Natal from flying operations with the Royal Air Force returns a young pilot named Mick, with a family story of his own. He and Anne meet and marry, and over decades transform Hazara into a model estate, but a political showdown is looming and their future seems increasingly uncertain. In the tradition of elegiac memoirs such as Karen Blixen's Out of Africa, about Anglo-Kenya, and David Thomson's Woodbrook, about Anglo-Ireland, onto this rural template John Conyngham stitches a lyrical and multi-layered tapestry of Anglo-South African life, with its interwoven destinies shot through with imperial associations, and its divided loyalties and love of the land, to catch a world before it slips from memory.

ISBN 9780639804033 | 296 pages | 244 x 170mm | 2016 | Natal Society Foundation, South Africa | Paperback




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