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FEVER
by Deon Meyer and K.L. Seegers, trans.
House of Anansi Press, September 2017
544 pages
$22.95 CAD
ISBN: 1473614414


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Deon Meyer's foray into dystopia, South African style, opens with a shocking event. A boy and his father are journeying across a depopulated land. They are among the few who have survived a world-wide pandemic, a virus that has left only about one-tenth of the world's population alive and breathing. The boy is Nico Storm, aged 13; his father is Willem, a polymath visionary who is planning to establish a new community of survivors. But before this can happen, they must reach a spot that Willem has already identified as a desirable place to begin anew. And before that, they must negotiate the perils of a desolate world.

Willem is filling the tank at an abandoned gas station when he is set upon by feral dogs. He is saved only by the quick action and good marksmanship of his young son. At that point, the dynamic between the two characters shifts and Nico realizes that his task will be to preserve his father. But he is also an adolescent, and just because the world has altered beyond all recognition, this does not mean that all friction between the generations is at an end.

If you're thinking McCormack's THE ROAD, think again. Typically, the American post-apocalyptic fantasy centres on the strong male protector ingeniously defending his family against the enemies who would steal their provisions and possibly eat them for lunch. FEVER does not unfold according to this pattern. It is told by Nico who looks back several decades to the founding of Amanzi, Willem's colony. At the outset, Nico announces:

I want to tell you about my father's murder.

I want to tell you who killed him and why. This is the story of my life. And the story of your life and your world too, as you will see.

I have waited for a long time to write about this: I believe that one needs wisdom and insight for such a task. I think one has first to get the anger - in fact, all the emotions - under control...

So here it is. My memoir, my murder story. And my exposé, so everyone will know the truth.

Although there are a number of scenes of violent conflict either with feral animals or helmeted motorcycle gangs intent on despoiling the colony and enslaving women, much of the narrative is thoughtfully political, in the sense that it considers the real problems that might arise in trying to establish a colony along fair and equitable principles in conditions as stark and unforgiving as these. The problems arise of course from the characters who wind up at Amanzi - a woman saved from a gang of rapists, Hennie Fly and his invaluable Cessna, a woman shepherding a flock of orphans, the somewhat mysterious Domingo who has a different style of leadership to that of Willem, and an evangelical pastor whose beliefs threaten to divide the colony altogether.

How all of this plays out over several years is contained in Nico's memoir. But his narrative is interrupted periodically by first-person testimonies from various colony members. Whether this was an altogether good idea from the point of view of sustaining narrative drive is a question, but it certainly fleshes out our sense of the colony, which emerges not as the product of an individual will but of social interaction, a markedly different perspective from the more familiar lone male defender of family values.

In the end, Nico does discover who murdered his father and why. He also discovers what brought about the plague that destroyed so many lives. Neither can of course be revealed here, but both answers would give rise to some lively discussion among book club members dedicated enough to complete FEVER's 544 pages.

Deon Meyer has provided a worthwhile contribution to the dystopia sub-genre, and one that is based on a different set of values from that commonly represented in the more male-hero centred examples of the type. The female characters are as interesting as the males in FEVER and as strong, and their voices are heard. For those readers who favour immersing themselves in speculation about the possibilities of survival on an increasingly fragile planet, FEVER is not to be missed. And K.L.Seegers has produced an excellent fluid translation from the Afrikaans as she has done so often in the past.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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