The Shouting in the Dark
Elleke Boehmer, 2015
242 pages, 88.000 words
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The Shouting in the Dark
Elleke Boehmer

'The story, as disturbing as it is enthralling, of a girl's struggle to emerge from under the dead weight of her father's oppression, while at the same time searching for a secure footing in the moral chaos of South Africa of the apartheid era.' – J.M. Coetzee

Late at night the young girl Ella creeps to her bedroom window and watches her elderly father out on the verandah shout angry words at the South African night sky. What is it about his random talk? she wants to understand. He wouldn’t sit and call out to no one, would he, for nothing? Her mother is asleep, hiding from his noises as she always does. It’s just the two of them, father and daughter, out watching—or is it? Is there some secret behind his stories? Why does he shout so very loud?

South Africa, 1970. Ella is growing up in a luxuriant paradise. Her father, a Dutch former marine employed by the British, has had enough of the harbor city Durban; he wants to get away from the sea. Without seeing the new house, the family moves inland.

Father and daughter used to watch the merchant ships, tankers, and colorful flags from Ceylon, Singapore, and Japan. Ella knows her father fought over there, but he refuses to talk about this period. What happened that makes him want to turn his back on the water?

Eavesdropping when he reminisces with old friends or when he sits on the porch raging into the distance is the only thing Ella can do to find out. She wonders where all the hatred of and aversion towards everything concerning the Netherlands is coming from. Whatever haunts him, it affects the whole family. Ella finds it hard to keep up at school – she seems an outsider, though she has a mission in the turbulent South Africa during the apartheid. Her beliefs however are, in the first place, widening the gap between her and her father.

The Shouting in the Dark tells the story of a daughter and her father, who both have to assert themselves in turbulent times, and in facing each other. Despite her peaceful ideals Ella is forced to put up a fight - against the prejudices of her classmates and the people around her, and against her own father, for whom her love and lack of understanding compete in a classical conflict.

Praise for Elleke Boehmer:

The Shouting in the Dark is a wonderful book! Unforgettable insights into a colonial society and a family founded on violence. This really remarkable story of girlhood survival kept me up very late at night. I couldn’t stop reading it. The utter authenticity of the narrative voice gives this work its brilliant aliveness, and places it in fascinating conversation with J.M. Coetzee’s powerful third person memoir Boyhood.’ – Professor Sarah Nuttall, University of Stellenbosch

Bloodlines is an engrossing and intriguingly told chapter in anti-imperial history’ – J.M. Coetzee

‘A beautiful evocation of childhood. Like colours slowly blooming downstream.’ – Nadeem Aslam

‘An outstanding study of a deeply troubled family against the backdrop of political change, and one girl’s resilience in the face of ugly, sharp-edged obstacles.’ – The Scotland on Sunday

‘Recent books and plays have dealt with the suppression of young women’s voices: Boehmer’s own recent novel The Shouting in the Dark narrates the inner life of a young woman in South Africa in the 1970s – and shows how abuse breaks such a voice. Elleke Boehmer writes unforgettable prose about an extraordinary time and place… The delicate intersection between the personal and the political has seldom been so skilfully explored; readable, tangible and haunting.’ – Naomi Wolf, The Guardian

‘This moving story is not to be missed either as a glimpse into the political chaos of Apartheid South Africa or as a beautifully rendered portrait of a childhood deprived of love or comfort. Astounding.’ – Book Trust

The Shouting in the Dark is a powerful novel of memory, family politics and awakening.’ – Ben Okri

Sandstone Press (UK)
The Shouting in the Dark

Late at night Ella watches her elderly father on the verandah, raging at the African sky. Caught between her mother's mysterious grief and her father's shattering wartime experiences, between the Holland of their past and apartheid South Africa, Ella fights hard to make it through her childhood in one piece. Her one enchantment is her forbidden love for the teenage gardener, Phineas. Years later, as an activist seeking political refuge in the Netherlands, Ella discovers her father never registered her birth. Now she must confront her father's ghosts, and create a new future for herself.

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