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Inheriting the Earth PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 August 2012 14:11

By Jill Nudelman

Review by Sarah Frost

Inheriting the Earth is an intriguing first novel, by Wits Creative Writing Masters graduate Jill Nudelman. I liked her fine attention to detail, and feel the strength of the book lies in its descriptive power. Written in the third person, which gives the story a graceful but strangely intimate poise, the story centres around the experience of Rose Clemens, an orphan in search of her roots. After the death of her foster mother who raised her, Rose discovers a boxful of mysterious objects that hint at her heritage. She leaves her hometown Johannesburg to go to the small village of Oberon in the Drakensberg to find out more about these artefacts. Conveniently, she has discovered that she has inherited millions from her late foster mother, which gives her time and means to delve into her past.

But, as the title suggests, it is not so much her material inheritance that preoccupies Rose, but her connection with the spiritually powerful mountains, where the descendants of the last surviving San community are said to reside. The connections are implicit in this book, Nudelman does not spell them out, and yet the resonances and symmetries are satisfying. There is a possible link between the ‘white lady’ – Rosamund Swan, an Englishwoman, who visited the area in the late 19th century and may have had an illicit liaison with one of the Bushmen living in Patilweng, the San village; and her great-grandaughter Ruby Crystal (Rose’s real mother), who also came to Oberon, and may have had an affair there with Rose’s father, Eric Vogel. Although I found Nudelman’s description of Rose’s foray into the mountains to visit a sangoma who ‘dreamt of her’ and her subsequent participation in a trance dance with the community there a little rushed and self-conscious, I admired the author’s attempt to integrate the heroine into another form of knowing. In her altered state, Rose sees her mother Ruby who tells her: ‘When we recognise that we have lost our distant past, only then can we mourn for it and move on’. This is the gist of the book; Rose’s journey to Oberon is to discover her origins, while simultaneously letting go of it so that she can move forward. Symbolically, she gets lost trying to find her way back to her car from Patilweng. Dr Wim Metheus, an enigmatic doctor from an Aids hospice in the area saves her life. Their encounter mirrors that of her mother’s and her great-great grandmother’s, in that after a passionate night in a cave where they stay overnight, she falls pregnant. The book is often delightful, written with care and attention. I feel it succeeds in showing the importance of knowing where one comes from.

My criticism stems from a sense that the ending is a little too neat, contrived even, possibly veering towards the unrealistic, as Rose decides to return to Oberon where she will have her baby and start a facility for vulnerable children in the valley. Having said that, Nudelman must be commended for rendering a white bourgeois woman’s experience of living in South Africa now, so precisely and lovingly.