Red Dust

Red Dust

by Gillian Slovo


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"Perhaps the most important piece of fiction yet to emerge from the new South Africa."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Written with the pace of a thriller"—Times Literary Supplement. Red Dust is set in a rural South African town, where three people are about to meet their past. Sarah Barcant has left her law career in New York to assist an old friend as prosecutor on a Truth Commission hearing. Dirk Hendricks, a former police deputy, is being taken in handcuffs to the station where he once worked. There he will confront Alex Mpondo, the man he had tortured, who is now an MP.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393323993
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 02/17/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Gillian Slovo, author of the novel Red Dust, now a feature film, and co-author of the play Guantánamo, as well as a memoir and nine other novels, lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Sarah glanced down, watching as her black suede ankle boots clipped up the subway stairs. She was smiling. No matter how often she sat in her prosecutor's seat waiting for a jury to deliver its verdict she would always find herself gripped by tension. Now the case was over, she felt almost light-hearted with relief. Coming out of the subway at 79th Street, her smile broadened. Not only had her victory buoyed her up, but on days like this she would experience anew the joy of being in New York.

    She turned right on Broadway. As she moved out of the protection of the Apthorp, the wind cut into her. She didn't mind. This was one of those dry February days she relished, the sky a clear ice blue, the air crisp and sharp, highlighting the city's hard outlines. She walked briskly, thinking of the malt she would pour herself when she got home. Broadway was so wide, she thought, and so solid with its for once smooth gliding traffic, its stores summoning passers-by into glutted end-of-season sales and its markets with their laid-out wares. She stopped outside one and looked over the polished, perfect fruit and glistening vegetables, clean and healthy under the light, all varieties despite the season. It was all so luxurious and so different from that bleak, dry place where she'd been born.

    That thought took her aback. It had been such a long time since she had used that other place as a reference point. Nowadays the sharp, clean outlines of this city felt so natural that, on the rare occasions when memories of her home town occurred, it was almost as if they conjured up a world that had lost all meaning.Taking a basket, she chose a dark green bunch of arugula, a couple of huge, shining, beef tomatoes and some Chinese cabbage.

She was outside her apartment door, juggling keys and bags, when she heard the phone ringing. She didn't bother hurrying. She always needed a moment of solitary reflection after a case finished and she knew that whoever it was trying to contact her would either leave a message or call back later. She slipped the key into the lock and pushed open the door, dropping her bags, unwinding her scarf and kicking off her boots, as the warmth of the place reached out to envelop her. She hung up her coat and walked into her open-plan living room.

    It was the first place she had ever owned and gradually she had turned it into something that was truly hers. She loved its solitude and its uncluttered elegance, the two plush, brick-red sofas standing stark against the pure white wall, the expanse of gleaming, wooden floor and the huge windows that faced out on to the seventh floor of the apartment block opposite. This was home.

    The phone kept ringing. She walked over to the kitchen and put down the paper bag on one of the slate-grey surfaces. There was a click: the answerphone switching on.


    She froze. There was no mistaking that voice. There was something biblical, and something unique, in the way Ben Hoffman said her name. There always had been.

    'This is my third call,' he said. He sounded irritated.

    Stubborn old man, she thought, smiling as she hurried towards the phone. She could just picture him, sitting in the solitude of his overdecorated study in that little town on the edge of the desert and picking up the phone to summon her, outraged to discover that she wasn't waiting for him at the other end.

    The tape kept turning, recording his injunction: 'I want you back.'

    She hesitated, her hand hovering in the air. Back? she thought. There is no going back. Not after all this time.

    'Please,' his testy old man's voice continued, 'ring me as soon as you get this message. I have need ...'

    And yet: how could she ignore him?

    She couldn't. Picking up the phone, she cut him off: 'Ben?'

Chapter Two

The room was dark and, save for the sound of Marie's breathing, as quiet as it should be in the dead of night. But something, some alien noise, had visited Pieter Muller in his dreaming and pulled him out of it. Getting up quietly so as not to wake Marie, he swapped his striped pyjamas for a pair of khaki trousers and a short-sleeved shirt before padding across the worn green carpet.

    A thickset man with a big square face, unblinking narrow eyes and heavy jowls that dragged his puffy flesh into a fading ginger beard above his bullish neck, Pieter always, even in his own bedroom, moved with purpose. Ham hands, their freckled skin dusted by downy ginger hair, swung by his side as he walked to the door. It creaked when he went through. He made a mental note to have it oiled. Then down the long, dark corridor he went past the games room with its full-size pool table, turning right at the corridor's end and going into the kitchen, an ungainly utilitarian space with an oversized deep freeze, ill-fitting metal-lined wall cabinets, scratched melamine counters and a long, central pine table which years of scrubbing had bleached almost white. A kitchen without the nonsense of current city fashion, Pieter thought proudly, as he passed the range where a cast-iron kettle and a pot of pre-cooked pap stood on the hot plate.

    His three dogs had heard him stirring and they were waiting for him outside, their thin tails beating the hot, still air. They were good, well-trained dogs, who followed when he moved to the middle of the gravel driveway and who stood quietly as he looked beyond the row of pine trees that bordered his land.

    The land was almost completely dark, lit only by the softest moonlight: the first pale rays of the day had not even begun blanching at the edges of the mountain. Nothing here that could have disturbed him.

    He moved down the driveway and over the wire fence, making his way up the slope and towards the south-west field, walking with purpose as his torch picked out a twisted grove of aloes and the jagged edges of a thorn tree. And all the while his dogs, grey shadows dancing in the dark, stayed close enough for him to hear their watery panting syncopated with the sound of his heavy work boots crunching down on the desiccated land. There were no other noises, nothing out of place.

    He crested the hill, then stopped and stood drinking in the quietness of the night. Above him, the stars flickered pinpoint-bright in the domed sky as he listened to the gradual easing of his own breath and to the scratching of a rodent through the undergrowth. The night was so intense it shrouded definition: lowering his gaze he saw the land stretching out as if it were one long unbroken whole. The stark rim of mountains that in the daytime dominated the countryside was indicated now only by a vague increase in the intensity of darkness. Standing, breathing in the solitude, Pieter knew that there had been no intruder. There could not have been. Which meant that the dulled sound that had awakened him — like the thud of a spade thumping into hardened ground — must have been just part of a dream.

    His youngest dog whimpered. He reached down and stroked her silken head, gentling her into calm. He could feel the heat rising off the parched earth, filling the air with the oily fragrance of eucalyptus. He turned and looked away from the mountains to the place where, ten kilometres away, the town of Smitsrivier cast up its vague yellow glow.

    He thought then about his encounter with James Sizela. Sizela the headmaster. On crossing paths with Pieter, Sizela had stopped and, saying nothing, had stood and stared, his brown eyes burning into Pieter's face.

    Of course. Now Pieter knew why he'd awakened so suddenly. It was this damned Truth Commission that was heading into town, stirring it all up, stoking Sizela's rage.

Excerpted from red dust by Gillian Slovo. Copyright © 2000 by Gillian Slovo. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Red Dust 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Steve38 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gillian Slovo has a record of producing work based on contemporary issues and here we have a novel based on the workings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. It's a decent piece of work illustrating how big politics affects individuals and their lives. But the characters are sketchy and uninvolving. The ending is a little too contrived in order to achieve parity between the individuals and communities confronting each other. It gives an outsider some idea of life in modern South Africa but I'm not sure how it would be viewed in that country. Possibly a bit too simplistic.
TigsW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a tremendously compelling book which I could not put down. The characters were very complex and well developed -- dark and good sides were convincing shown and really reflected the realities of life in apartheid South Africa. The weakest character was probably the main character, but this did not detract from the story or the general strength of the author's character development. An excellent book about an absorbing and complex social experiment that could only have played out this way in South Africa.