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Reviewed by Delene Vrey for Readers' Favorite
In A Leaf in Wind and Water, Jennifer Skutelsky tells the story of Anneline Mulder, or Leaf as her Pa calls her, a girl growing up in South West Africa. Raised on a farm in the Kalahari, she knows her mother’s constant sorrow and her Pa’s deep love for them both. But what lies behind the locked door of the room her mother constantly visits? When Pa dies and she is sent to boarding school in Windhoek, there are changes on the farm. There is a new manager who is both a broken and hard man. Circumstances in the house turn abusive, and Leaf runs away. When she arrives in Cape Town, lost and afraid, she ends up in District Six with the November family. Here her life seems to gain purpose among the people she feels she belongs with. However, it is the era in Cape Town’s history when District Six was taken from the Coloured (mixed race) people, relocating them to the Cape flats where they had to make a new life and where gangs still rule the area. Always afraid of Pieter finding her and taking her home, she is unprepared for when it happens and she has to leave the most important person in her life behind. Back on the farm, Leaf has to come to terms with her mother and the secrets she kept as well as Pieter and his schemes. Ultimately, Leaf finds her way to San Francisco, where she starts a new life, but will she always be alone, a Leaf in Wind and Water, carried along by both but never reaching dry ground where she can settle?
Jennifer Skutelsky writes a story that spans from just after World War 2 and the idealism of a super race and segregation up to late 1989, just before the release of Nelson Mandela. Though the story is fiction, it could most surely be a true story as the author perfectly describes the fear the people lived in at that time: Fear of falling in love with a person of color, fear of sexual abuse, and speaking up against injustice. Jennifer tells the story objectively, showing the reader the motivations behind the characters’ actions, from Johanna Francina in her Voortrekker (pioneer) clothes, Sonia and her love for a Black lawyer, and Leaf, who does not know where she belongs. The story is emotional and heartbreaking at times and covers a part of South African history that is painful to talk about but necessary to hear. A Leaf in Wind and Water focuses on the characters. Still, it highlights the context beautifully and emphasizes how politics over more than 200 years have affected all the people of South Africa, no matter their skin color.