By Fred Stenson
“In The Great Karoo, Fred Stenson has once again brought the past to shimmering life, this time evoking the hallucinatory experience of war in a foreign land. While the novel centres on Frank Adams-a wide-eyed cowboy who joins the Canadian Mounted Rifles-it encompasses much more than the tale of a single soldier. In language both vivid and precise, Stenson paints a vast and damning portrait of war. Dark matter indeed, but a species of transcendent light shows through in the tender feelings men harbour for their horses, in the fierce, unspoken friendships those men forge, and in the life-affirming rush of romantic love. You’ll be tempted to read it in one sitting. Go ahead-the story will be with you long after you close the book.”
-Alissa York, author of Effigy
Fred Stenson turns his award-winning story-telling skills to a chapter of history that has not been much dealt with in the world’s literature. The Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) was the last gasp of Victorian British imperialism. British forces attempted to wrest control of the riches of South Africa from the Boers, the Dutch farmers who claimed the land. The Boers fought back bitterly, and though the British ultimately won, it was a Pyrrhic victory, as the losses turned British public opinion against such far-away imperial adventures, with implications for Africa and India decades later.
The irony for the present day reader is that the Boers are of course the present-day Afrikaaners, the architects of apartheid, and themselves supplanted in power by the democratic administration first elected in 1994.
As their battle against an unexpectedly stoic enemy wore on, the British sent out a call to arms to all their colonies, and an astonishing number of unemployed young men from the western province of Alberta, including many Native Canadians, answered the call with their own beloved horses, who were expected to handle the desert terrain of the Great Karoo as readily as the plains of their homeland. This would be only the first of many disastrous and ill-informed judgments made by British generals from their homes in England.
Fred Stenson paints a heartbreaking portrait of young men struggling to honour their patriotic obligations to an uncaring Crown in a distant foreign land. The Great Karoo, bought at auction by Doubleday Canada is lush with detail of landscape, flora and fauna, strong with the authority of his massive and detailed research, and rife with sad evocations of more recent sacrifices of young men abroad. It is breathtaking, horrific, and exhilarating by turns, and ultimately stands in honour of the sacrifice of these young innocents, man and beast.
“A truly magnificent novel by one of Canada’s greatest living writers.”
-David Adams Richards, author of The Lost Highway
“Stenson has produced another outstanding historical novel, a masterly work about Canada’s involvement in the Boer War. It is subtly subversive not for its postcolonial attitude toward British imperialism, but because it plays down leading figures such as the legendary Sam Steele. And its significant because it discovers and illuminates a lost chapter of Canadian history.”
-Globe 100 Best Book
“Linguistic mastery in this book is the rule, not the exception.”
–The Globe and Mail
“A page-turner. . .Through gorgeous prose, Stenson puts readers right into the saddle.”
“Stenson writes with power, and his descriptions – particularly of the landscape and the trials of the horses – are masterful. . .The Great Karoo is a fascinating book.”
–Quill & Quire
Doubleday, Canada, September 9th, 2008
Governor General’s Literary Awards Finalist 2008
Globe 100 Best Book, 2008
Shortlisted for The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2009
Longlisted for the 2010 IMPAC Award