You Will Be Safe Here
For many American readers, Damian Barr’s first novel may require a bit of research to fully grasp the times and people at the heart of You Will Be Safe Here. Centered on the Second Boer War in South Africa, which took place between British and Afrikaner citizens, the first half of the novel—while gripping in description and dialogue—may not fully land unless readers are willing to educate themselves about the harsh realities he depicts. For example, the South African concentration camps, as experienced by the character Sarah van der Watt, were unfamiliar to me. To grasp what Barr has done in rendering them, I did a bit of research and discovered how unflinchingly brilliant his rendering of the time and place really is.
The second half of the book will, undoubtedly, be more accessible as it follows sixteen-year-old Willem Brandt, a new recruit at New Dawn Safari Training Camp. He’s been sent there by his mother and stepfather to become a man after several incidents of unruly behavior. Set in 2010 and based somewhat on the true story of Raymond Buys, it is Willem’s story—as it intersects with Sarah’s—that gives the book its heart and reveals the contradictory realities of colonialism.
What finally must be said about Barr’s You Will Be Safe Here is that the language is absolutely stunning. At times it is so poetic the novel seems to be a reverie; at other times it is a literary punch to the gut. There are few writers who can manage this balance, but Barr does so artfully and without missing a beat.
|Page Count||352 pages|
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