BOOK REVIEW / Switch off the lights: Take leave and go - Karel Schoeman: Tr David Schalkwyk Sinclair-Stevenson pounds 14.99

IF A language is a dialect with an army, then Afrikaans achieved this status at the turn of the century, asserting its independence of its Dutch origins and throwing off the stigmatising labels of 'Cape Dutch' and 'the Taal', the Boers' patois. Take Leave and Go maps out the cultural territory of the Afrikaans-speaker as it might be in the near future. Political events move faster than publishers' schedules, and yesterday's fantasy becomes today's reality: the civil unrest and street violence of the book's dream sequences have become more familiar in the time since it first appeared in Afrikaans in 1990.

Adriaan, an Afrikaans poet, sees his circle of friends dwindle as events in South Africa force first one then another to take leave and go - to Belgium, to Holland, to Canada, to detention or prison - and with them the cultural trappings of the language in which he writes. The party to launch Adriaan's latest book of poetry does its best to glitter and sparkle, but it's an uphill struggle as the liveliest members of the group are living abroad, and those who have stayed behind reminisce about absent friends, feel the pointlessness and lethargy that come with the erosion of a cultural base, and the feeling of having missed the boat or the place on the last of the ox-wagons leaving town in a scattered departure that does not even have the heroic quality of an exodus or a Great Trek.

The images that fill Adriaan's mind are those of a Holocaust, a mass evacuation and extermination, where boxes of remnants are left behind along with the randomly fallen bodies. These remains are as pathetic as the faded European relics he guards in the museum where he unenthusiastically does his day-job.

The thought in the novel always moves in this direction, as Adriaan's concentration turns from the external chaos which never really touches him to the mundane preoccupations that set about his ultimately selfish concerns as a writer. He cannot be a poet without Afrikaans, and Afrikaans depends on the Afrikaners' power in South Africa: whatever he may feel about the state of emergency and the army rule prevailing in the novel, he is still on the side of the soldiers: the roadblocks let him through.

It is an achievement on the part of the translator, the mysteriously uncredited David Schalkwyk, that he has managed to bring over this concern into one of Afrikaans's chief competitors without losing the feeling of being rooted to a particular spot outside which the power of the language cannot work, and to do this without using many identifiably South African locutions.

The central incident of the novel, once Adriaan has done with accompanying friends on nostalgic farewell trips, is a visit up country to the retreat of an older poet, Dekker, who has retired from writing and has no interest in participating in the literary life of the city. When Bernard and Adriaan arrive at the village, we are shown - for the first time, 176 pages into the novel - 'a coloured woman' and 'a group of coloured men', as if, up until now, such people have not existed. The oddity of this is compounded by the nice attention to the detail of each glittering artistic figure's racial or national origins, even an Indian boyfriend for the flamboyant Nico, as if the glaring realities of Afrikanerdom (and the reasons, one supposes, for the war) only exist outside cosmopolitan Cape Town. Out in the dorps of the veld, however, the apartheid terminology applies, and it is in this setting that we see the father-figure of the literature Adriaan represents.

The final reaction to the central issue - the possible dissolution of Afrikaans culture, a less threatened and at the same time less vivid culture than, say, the Yiddish culture of Europe between the wars, with which the book draws a parallel - is to ask if anybody cares in particular, if even the participants are upping and leaving.

The only incomer is a German with an interest in Afrikaans poetry (and that marks him as an eccentric) and he is the one who, unexpectedly, provides Adriaan with a reason for wanting to stay. It is the words that remained, and it is this love for the words of Afrikaans itself, even transmitted through English, that gives this novel its moving force, and puts it up beside Schoeman's earlier novel, the remarkable Another Country, set in a South Africa of a century before, when Afrikaans was scarcely acknowledged as a language in its own right.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all