The Native Commissioner (Johnson)

A compelling book, both old and new at the same time. What happens to a man who tries to do his job honorably and decently when the country he seeks to serve is crumbling underneath his feet? What happens to this man who can never, literally or symbolically, call any place home? What happens to this same man when he realizes, tries to ignore and then to fight the creeping awareness that his life has, at least in one major way, been in vain?

Johnson’s writing is wonderful. He depicts a South Africa both powerful and fragile, both beautiful and increasingly ugly. His style – which one might call modern (different points of view, different genres, etc.) – serves his story well.

What, then, happens to the son of such a man, the one who has finally decided to confront the proverbial box in his basement, the one that contains his father’s story and therefore his? Is the story he constructs True or true? Does it, in the end, even matter? We make our stories. We, like the protagonist, have our own boxes.

A powerful, memorable work.

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