Reality+romance = relevance
This book came highly recommended and I put off reading it till I knew I had stopped having expectations. Preconceived expectations are never a good thing. The apartheid topic is one I don’t gravitate towards, because it still shocks me too much that people could and can be narrow-minded enough to judge others by skin colour, instead of character. I just get too emotional and enfuriated.
This story is two-fold. One is the social romance fiction based on historical events, and the other is the author’s account of the historical account, which is not fiction but interpreting and explaining the past. You may appreciate this or not, but the author forewarns you that it is your choice and how to watch out for it. The historical background account is certainly useful for those unacquainted with the socio-political situation, although the rest of my review will refer to the fictional part and author’s style. It is absolutely impossible to look at the storyline by taking it outside its historical context, but it is equally impossible to review politics here.
The characters, plot, emotions, descriptions are all reminiscent of the great movies from the golden ages of Hollywood, and you can easily picture someone like Grace Kelly playing Elsa, or Sidney Poitier playing Stanwell. Though at times I did wish there was more conversation between Elsa and Stanwell themselves, the scene with the beaded ‘love letter’ makes up for all the words. The implications of tradition in contrast with their rule-breaking speaks in abundance. However, despite this romantic duo, my favourite character is DGF — sort of love at first read, for so many reasons. Malan Zander, on the other hand, made me want ot leave the book as soon as he appeared, not for bad writing, but for hitting too close to home – the puny souls, abusing power every chance they get, are all too painfully realistic, regardless of time and culture. An entire tapestry of characters is well-displayed as you follow the battle of interracial romance with the world paralysed with bigotry and inhumane politics.
The wording is really rich, intricately written, with quite a few local expressions adding to the overall atmosphere and understanding of the two worlds melded into one. The style is consistent throughout, the syntax quite complex and vocabulary exuberant, and the topic absolutely noteworthy. The fact that the author actually lived in such surroundings and times exudes additional credibility. The contrast between the descriptions of Stanwell’s cursed mines and the media frenzy surrounding Formula 1 and fashion is excellently written, and leaves a striking impression on the reader, enhancing the depiction of injustice and inequality. As the story progresses and nears its ending, the analogies with the wilderness become stronger and serve the story impeccably.
The author does not limit himself only to displaying the brutality of racism, but other forms of tragic prejudice – mysoginist, antisemitic, bullying the weak, misguided and misdirected tiny lords with legal power. What a grand race humans could be, if we weren’t so puny sometimes! Nevertheless, Mark Fine shows very clearly there are no clear lines between the good and the bad, and it is not money, status or skin colour which makes us good or bad, but our nature. Family, loyalty, friendship, respect and love go beyond any limits and matter the most.
The Zebra Affaire is an old-fashioned, romantic but not deluded, vintage-like tale which is not to be rushed in and cannot be rushed. If you are looking for fast-paced, cliffhanger thrillers with wild erotic scenes, you might not find everything you are looking for in this book. If you are looking for a book that makes you think, and engages your sense of humanity, culture, history and language, this is one of the great ones you will enjoy. The writing here reminded me of music – this might not be something you dance to, but something you listen to carefully and in peace. There is much to be learned from such art.