Title: A LION ON THE LANDING – Memories of a South African Youth
Hemel & See Boeke
cover, 402 pages
Elsa Joubert is a renowned South African writer
who, in her travels and her writings pursued her passion for uncovering the
true Africa below the colonial veneer. In South Africa, she was already
considered one of the great Afrikaans writers of the last century even before
she catapulted to world renown in the eighties with her novel, The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena.
Her many other writings include travel books,
novels and short stories, and she has received numerous other awards and
LION ON THE LANDING – Memories of a South African Youth
A Lion on the Landing is the translation into
English of Joubert’s autobiography, ’n
Wonderlike geweld: Jeugherinneringe, 2005. The new title acknowledges
Joubert’s courage in exposing the truth about Africa in her writings. The
epigraph is an excerpt from Page 2, when she is barely three years old:
the stairs made a turn, there was a dark, crouching lion carved deeply into the
landing post, with open mouth, two fangs and two paws that wanted to tear free
of the wood. She crept fearfully up the stairs with her back against the wall
as far away from the lion as she could, and at the very top she looked down on
the lion through the bars and laughed out loud with pleasure.
courage as a vulnerable woman in a patriarchal society is foreshadowed by the
three-year-old Elsa finding pleasure in overcoming her fears. Indeed, a driving
force throughout her life has been the passion to meet head-on the mysterious,
hidden truths about the people of Africa. These were her lions to be mastered.
is also a second autobiography that details her life from age 26, starting with
her journey to Central Africa and down the Nile as a lone young woman, and
going on to describe her life in South Africa and her further travels in Africa
and abroad in the second half of the last century (Reisiger: Die Limietberge oor, 2009).
present volume is about Joubert’s childhood and youth growing up in the
staunchly Afrikaner community of Paarl in the Cape interior in the early
twentieth century. She is immersed in a society that is focused on developing a
unity through an exclusive language, culture, education and tradition. The
rising Afrikaner nationalism would eventually lead to the National Party coming
into power in 1948 and maintaining that position, together with the disastrous
apartheid policies, for 35 years.
tells her story in simple language in the third person, and with a ruthless
emphasis on revealing the "truth” of events as well as her feelings as a young
girl; in the same spirit as she wrote the story of Poppie. It is a sensitive
and detailed personal account with little judgment but rather emotionally laden
depictions, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions about the will to
form a cohesive political entity. Moreover, her development as a writer is
detailed, beginning with her decision at an early age that she would write in
support of South Africa and Afrikaners. The irony is that she would go on to
speak up against the Afrikaner policies of apartheid in her writings. Her agony
over this paradigm shift is described in her second autobiography.