Book Review: You will be Safe here

Title: You will be Safe here
Author: Damian Barr
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 346
ISBN: 978-1526608734
Source: Publsiher


You will be Safe here tells two stirring and connected stories spanning over a century.  Set in South Africa and told in three parts, the events in the novel take place in 1901 during the second Boer War and then in Johannesburg of the late 20th century, culminating finally in 2015.

South Africa, 1901, the height of the second Boer War. Sarah and her son are taken to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp where, the English promise, they will be safe.

Johannesburg, 2010, Sixteen-year-old outsider Willem is sent by his parents to New Dawn Safari Training Camp. Here they ‘make men out of boys’- guaranteed.

The premise of the novel is quite gripping and grapples the reader at once. The author has employed two different narrators in the novel. The part involving the war times is in the form of diary entries written by Sarah. She keeps the diary for her husband, who is out fighting in the war. In this diary she chronicles her days of living under the constant  fear of the invasion by the English and later the hard life of the camp.

The second and third part of the novel has a third person omniscient narrator who makes us witness the life of Raina and her grandson Willem, who is sent to the Training school. Both the voices are quite distinct. The author had done a good job there. I enjoyed both the narratives equally and immensely.

Sarah’s diary entries very reflect the tension and fear that creeps into the personal space while men are out at the war front. And her records of the life at the concentrating camp are quite immersive. Then the glimpses of Raina’s life story that the author provides are also quite evocative.  And finally Willem’s story further makes the reader hooked up.

The brilliant stories, which are quite interestingly linked with each other, carry undertones of homosexuality, racial discrimination and slavery system. I liked the author’s writing style very much. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • Modesty, it seems, is the first causality of war.
  • Bed without you is not just empty. It’s a particular emptiness the way that silence after a hymn is not the same as the simple quite before.
  • We … listen to their tales – they can’t all be true. The English are, after all, the same race as us. They share our faith if  not our faithfulness. Our Father is their Father.

I recommend this book to all those who are interested in historical and literary fiction. This is a powerful book.

My Rating: **** (4.25/5)

What do you think about this book? Have you read any book on the Boer War? Do share your thoughts. Thanks.

*I was sent a copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Views expressed are entirely personal and unbiased.*

PS. T S Eliot has written a brilliant poem on the Boer War titled ‘To the Indian who died in South Africa’. Do check it out.


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