Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"KRUGER'S GOLD: A novel of the Anglo-Boer War"
by Sidney Allinson.

Reader's review, by Renee Cox:

Sidney Allinson's books are always surprises. They can start off unassumingly and build up to rip-snorting sagas of ceaseless adventure. In his finest work yet, Allinson doesn't even start off slowly. Kruger's Gold grips the reader at once and the pace never slows. As I read this action tale of the struggle a century ago between South Africa's Boers, and England and her "colonials," I was repeatedly struck with the idea this would be -- and should be -- a wonderful movie. Allinson's experience as a television producer may have given him that hot-shot cameraman's "eye" or it could simply be that any good yarn so stirringly told lends itself to theatre in the best sense.

On these pages, a segment of history that was soon obscured by two ensuing, bloodier world wars leaps to life. It is really the twilight of an era, with Europeans jostling for power and position and, in this case in particular, South African gold. Allinson fills in the historical perspective while following a Canadian soldier and his colonial troops who, late in the war, have been assigned to find the legendary government cache of gold that departing Prime Minister Paul Kruger was said to have stashed before leaving in 1900 for virtual exile in Europe.

Allinson writes sympathetically of the brilliant Boer commandos fighting to retain their homeland and their way of life. His story is not overly revisionist: the Boers have seized this land from the native tribes, after all, and even the most principled among them want to keep the blacks and "coloureds" in their place, lest their vast numbers overwhelm the white settlers.

However, there is no presentism here; Allinson writes with unblinking realism, reflecting the actual social attitudes of 1902. Even through a more politically correct prism, we must admire the self reliance of the Boers, whose surprise guerilla tactics and talented marksmanship enabled them to strike at the enemy, melt away into the bush, and return to attack another day. Many if not most of the men have lost wives and children to the war; yet, while they can be ruthless, they treat surrendered prisoners with a decency and respect that arouses a sense of nostalgia in the reader. Their English counterparts do as well with their own prisoners, for the most part.

The story includes a vivid descrption of the concentration camps where stranded Boer families and prisoners were placed to wait out the war. (Those places were not "concentration camps" in today's Nazi sense of death-camps. Rather the British camps were set up to literally "concentrate" together Boer civilians who had been forced off their farms.)

However, Allinson paints a grim picture of the horrors where women and children and some men languished in filthy conditions with poor diets and disease and death dogging every step. A few selfless medical workers do their best, but there are no facilities and their supplies are woefully inadequate. The camps were not England's finest legacy to the history texts.
The four romances interlaced in the book provide a lusty and pleasing counterpoint. Even the horses get to play a heart-warming role. His thorough grasp of military affairs, cavalry warfare, and soldierly detail adds to the feeling of authenticity. And throughout the book, Allinson has peppered the story with fascinating historical minutiae, such as the Boer heroine not being allowed to play ragtime music, then the rage, because it was produced by black performers.
Read this book. It is a treat.

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