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there is a season

There is a Season, Double Storey, 2007

Adéle is dying and needs to be brought home. Her two daughters meet up after many years apart, to take care of her in her fading days, in an hold house in the Western Cape village of Vergenoeg.

Bella, the younger, is single, bohemian, a singer living in Paris, a rebel. San, the well-groomed older sister, is a responsible mother, domesticated and far more conservative. Their contact with death forces them to face the reality of their lives, which is not what it appears to be.

A moving, intimate account of the relationship between mothers, daughters and sisters, and a reflective squaring-up to death. As Adele considers her life, she thinks: I am not afraid, only sad. A bit disappointed. Surely there should have been more?

This is a story that takes place in a fictitious town: Vergenoeg ("far enough"). This could mean "far away enough"; it could also mean "satisfied enough". Either way, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that it is a story that deals with daughters, sisters and mothers – a story eminently suited to women.
Bella is the younger, "sinful" daughter; she's a singer in Paris; she's a big name in South Africa. Her older – always responsible – sister is San; she's the one who keeps not only the household but also the community going; she's the good one. Their mother is dying of cancer. At her request, her two daughters care for her until her death in the family home in the small town of Vergenoeg.

In a very fresh way, the unknown side of these two women's lives becomes exposed: in Paris, "exotic" Bella, is, in reality, just another performer in a nightclub, on the brink of poverty; the perfectly groomed and self-controlled San is, in reality, on the brink of alcoholism. It is particularly in the unavoidable confrontation between the two sisters that this shattering of images plays an important role in their reconciliation both with one another and with the death of their mother. By having to face her sickness and her death, they are brought into direct contact both with one another and with themselves in such a way that they are stripped of all illusion.

It is therefore also a story that deals with the physical experience, including that of sickness and of death. There are poignant scenes: the brown woman Dollie Plaatjies half-carrying, half-dragging the sick Adèle to the bathroom; San embracing her mother when she is dead as she could never embrace her when she was alive. Yet Marita van der Vyver understands how to give even the heaviest aspects of life the lightest of touches. The sex scenes with Karel Kat – a school boyfriend of days gone by whom Bella comes across again in town – also have the body as focus but lighten the intensity.

No one is going to put this book down once started.

The story is beautifully and movingly ordinary. This is how life is; it can't be any other way. This is how people are; they can't be any different. There are both joys and sorrows, but they are all enveloped in goodness. Beautiful is life – so says the poet – and beautiful is death.

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