Fiela's Child (Phoenix Fiction) - Dalene Matthee

A story of two families as different as they could be, and a court that wasn't as wise as Solomon when asked to choose between two women claiming the same child. Fiela Komoetie, living on the open veld, raised her white "hand-child" (adopted child) Benjamin with all the love she gave her other children, and then some, though half-knowing that the government wasn't going to allow the child to stay with her when they found out. At the other end of a landscape of contrasts, in a dark forest, lived Barta Van Rooyen who would eventually claim Benjamin. The contrast between Fiela's pride and dignity and Barta's family's scrabbling, violent, fearful lives was equally great.

This was a memorable portrait of the natural world of 19th-century South Africa, with its forests, elephants, ostriches, and birdsongs, already passing away under the axes and plows. As a depiction of the social world of the time, it was more particularistic, taking in only a few families. The author was more interested, I think, in exploring Benjamin's identity crisis, unable to identify with the family he'd been told was "his" when taken to the forest; a crisis she brought to a height by the rather obvious plot device of having him fall in love with his "sister". She was also interested in reflecting on "the power of a woman", the instinct of love and protection as she sees it, so lacking in weak Barta.