Last night I finished re-reading “A Far-Off Place” Laurens van der Posts’ 1974 sequel to “A Story Like the Wind.” I felt it appropriate to read both novels in preparation for our own journey to Africa, given our recent move to Africa.
Set in Africa, both stories explore the relationship between Francois Joubert, a French boy born and raised in the remote African interior and Xhabbo, a bushman he meets by happenstance and their relationship with the natural world. The tale is exquisitely told of Francois’s coming of age and their ultimate journey across the Sahara with Francois’s friend, Nonnie, Xhabbo’s partner Nuin-Tara and Francois’ dog, Hintza.
I first became aware of Laurens when Bob introduced me to his writing twenty years ago. He was born in Africa and spent time among the bushmen, writing an excellent book about them titled “The Lost World of the Kalahari.” I am a fan of van der Post because, or perhaps in spite of the deep insights he brings to his writing. The last chapter did not leave me wanting. I particularly enjoyed the following thought-provoking excerpts.
The first concerns the possible causes of wanderlust in civilized man. It hit close to home, perhaps a bit too close, given our penchant for what would seem to be travel for travel’s sake.
They had come to Africa on the assumption that by moving to a new world they would leave their problems behind and find a place where there were no such problems and no such hindrances. They seemed to have had no inkling that human beings, whether they liked it or not, carried their problems about with them wherever they went.
So in their three hundred and twenty years of a new life, even in the Africa of their promise, when this craving for a better way of being seemed thwarted, they had again and again renounced homes and possessions just as readily as any in Europe and moved deeper into the interior, looking once more for a place where their problems would not exist, where life would be innocent like a slate wiped clean, and they could write all over it perfect phrases and sentences of the perfect life on earth. They had of course found no such thing. They had not only not found it but had gradually begun to create a greater form of tyranny than they had opposed and fled from in the beginning, so unaware were they of the new heresy of believing in places where evil did not exist. Not only were there no such places in Africa but there were none anywhere else in the world. Man had run out of places, had run out of geographical solutions for his problems and changes of scene as a ‘cure’ for his restlessness. >snip<
The real, the only crisis out of which all evil came was a crisis of meaning. It was the terrible invasion of meaninglessness and a feeling of not belonging invading the awareness of man, that was the unique sickness of our day. And this sickness, he was convinced, was the result of the so-called civilized man, parting company with the natural and instinctive man in himself.
The second excerpt concerns the domestication of cattle for milk.
He found unbearable what he saw in the eyes of cows, bred into an unnatural state by men, so that instead of yielding half a gallon of milk a day that was necessary for rearing their calves, they were bred to develop udders bursting with milk so that they could hardly endure the anguish of it. And all so that they could yield twelve to fourteen gallons a day, not for calves but for men. They were treated not as warm-blooded mammals who had rendered men single service so much as soulless factories.