Before that, “In a strange country” had already benefited from two publications, from an English translation, not directly from Afrikaans. Although a translator and polyglot, Schoeman always published in his native language, not in English.
Sometimes we had to wait more than thirty years, forty for “The Heavenly Garden”, to publish the French version of one of his works. However, Schoeman is celebrated at home, he even won the very prestigious Hertzog prize three times (In 1970 then in 1986 for “In a strange country” and in 1995 for “This life”).
In an English mansion
While most of his novels take place in South Africa, this “Heavenly Garden” is set in a mansion in the English countryside, where a young student from Cape Town comes to spend the summer, invited by his friend Bob Chambers. Implicitly, we recognize the reading of the “Messenger” by LP Hartley. This “Messenger” – adapted in the cinema by Harold Pinter and Palme d’or at Cannes in 1971 – curiously presents, in its 10/18 edition, a cover illustration which could also be appropriate for the “Celestial Garden”. Palimpsest? Schoeman has always cited Harper as his favorite writer. And draws inspiration from it like a twin voice to deploy his obsessions, exiles, uprootings, the feeling of stepping aside.
Nikolaas quickly took over from this idle, opulent, but unostentatious life. The personality of M.me Chambers, with very maternal accents, contributes to this feeling of well-being mixed with guilt which overwhelms him, especially when he finds his friend and his sister Prudence too casual. The young girl, with a fiery character, confronts her somewhat lunar father, annoyed by her distance from the world as she hears the rise of Nazism and the outbreaks of the Spanish Civil War.
Light and soft
We must remember this “Garden” its architecture. The first chapter jumps four decades (1977) to bring Nikolaas and Prudence back together. A pirouette that says everything about Schoeman, for whom certain fragments of life, certain places, certain events or just a few words heard contribute to the shaping of each being.
That summer, the flowers in M’s gardenme Chambers crystallizes with their quiet beauty the political discussions with Bob or the outbursts of Prudence. As for the friendship of the two boys, it is undoubtedly in the aerial fervor of these moments that it was definitively sealed. And the summer of 1937 shaped each of these characters, because light and sweet, it was also the last of a certain world before the great shift of the Second World War.
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Literature: “The Celestial Garden” by Karel Schoeman, a melancholic dive into the founding territories of the past