A RE-POST: THE OCTOBER KILLINGS – Wessel Ebersohn

In March 2011, I posted the following review.  I am putting it up again because I plan to review the second book in the series, THOSE WHO LOVE NIGHT, tomorrow.

October 21, 1985

“The convoy stayed in the shadow of the hillside until after darkness had fallen.  By the time the ten armored personnel carriers started moving, the trees on the far side of the valley had long faded into poorly defined shadows….Like most nineteen-year-olds of his time and culture, Leon was a patriot.  He knew that, if need be, he was willing to die to defend his country.”

Abigail Bukula was fifteen-years-old when the white apartheid  security forces crossed into Lesotho and attacked the camp where she was staying with her parents and other leaders of the African National Congress.  It was early in the morning of October 22.  The anti-apartheid activists, branded as terrorists, were sleeping when the security forces came for them.  Abigail watched as her parents were murdered.  She would have died, too, if it not for that nineteen-year-old boy who took a risk and saved her life.

October 13, 2005

It has been twelve years since the new South African  government had taken the reins of power and leadership.  Abigail, an attorney happily married to the editor of one of the nation’s major newspapers, is the face of the new South Africa.  Educated in London and at Harvard, Abigail is chief director of one one of the departments of the government in Pretoria.  She has buried the memories of the night in Lesotho; she is not the teenager who watched her parents die, she no longer allows herself to be one of the six survivors who escaped the hate-fueled rampage.  Abigail is a woman who will not let herself be anyone’s victim by reliving the horrors of her life.  On this day, the senior members of the justice department are holding an award ceremony for Michael Bishop, a hero of the struggle to end apartheid.  ” ‘Yes,’ the minister said, ‘a genuine hero of the struggle.  While the rest of us were getting educated at international universities, he was in the front lines, risking his life.  It just shows how sound our nonracial policies are’. The last reference was to the fact that Bishop was white.”  But Michael Bishop never arrived and the ceremony honoring him went on without him.

Three days later, Abigail is buried in the details of an international conference that will showcase South Africa on the world stage.  Abigail does not want to be distracted when Johanna, her assistant, comes to tell her that there is a white man who is insisting on seeing Abigail.  Johanna tries to send him away but he refuses to leave.  When Abigail hears the man is Leon Laurens, Johanna is unprepared for Abigail’s reaction. She is shocked as Abigail changes from the supremely confident woman she knows to a much younger girl.  Her bearing and her voice and her voice are different.  Abigail has never forgotten the young soldier and she can’t refuse to see him but the mention of his name erases the past twenty years and this brings her back to the night in Lesotho.

There is a powerful connection between the two that has not been lost in twenty years.  Leon comes to Abigail, desperate for her protection, not for himself but for his wife and children.  There were 20 men in the group who invaded the house in Lesotho, led by Colonel van Jaarsveld.  The colonel is in prison.  Leon is the only one of the twenty recruits who is still alive.  Over the years, all the others were killed on October 22, the anniversary of the raid.

Abigail wants to save Leon but she needs help.  She contacts Yudel Gordon who was a prison psychologist before the end of apartheid.  He lost his job but he has recently signed a contract to help at the prison.  Yudel is the only one who can get Abigail  in to meet with the only other surviving member of the security force, van Jaarsveld.  Abigail tries to convince van Jaarsveld to help them save Leon but van Jaarsveld is an unrepentant supporter of the old apartheid social divisions.  He has killed too many people to care about one more life.

To save Leon, Abigail and Yudel join forces to find Michael Bishop.  Neither have any doubt that the assassination of the security forces is the work of Bishop who didn’t see the end of apatheid as a pardon for the people who murdered blacks with impunity.  Michael Bishop is an avenging angel for the dead of the anti-apartheid struggle.  The rest of the country may want to forget those days but those days, when he made himself judge and executioner, defined his life.

It is a stunning accomplishment that the author was able to convey the inhumanity of apartheid, the struggle that will likely take generations to resolve (the American Civil War began in 1860, 150 years ago, and we still suffer the consequences of the slavery that was the excuse for starting it) within a story that the reader will not want to put down. In fact, Abigail and Yudel are so real that many not want to let them go; finishing the book is saying goodbye.  Ebersohn indicates that THE OCTOBER KILLINGS is the first in a series and I hope it is true.  In the 1990′s, Ebersohn wrote three books featuring Yudel Gordon, A LONELY PLACE TO DIE, DIVIDE THE NIGHT, and THE CLOSED CIRCLE.

Ebersohn writes a very good story but his characters will keep readers coming back.

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2 Responses to A RE-POST: THE OCTOBER KILLINGS – Wessel Ebersohn

  1. Doris Roben says:

    TErrific book we have read it for our Thursday book club in Malahide dublin ireland

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