Monday, February 3, 2014

The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert 2013 (a novel)

"The Lion Seeker is a captivating story, offering at times page-turning thrills and at others a painful meditation on destiny and volition."  from a review by Ellah Allfrey on National Public Radio 11/7/13

This vivid novel, although not autobiographical, focuses on a Jewish family from Dusat, Lithuania whose family members settle in Johannesburg as the author's family did. 

We readers follow the main character, Isaac, as he moves as a youngster from the old country and tries to make his way in the new. To some extent he has the same problems many children of immigrants have: parents set in their old ways whose expectations for their children create conflict between parents and child that culminate in anger and guilt. During their struggles we learn about the opportunities, the geography, the ethnic groups, divisions in social class, the politics, and the anti-semitism that confronted the Jewish immigrants in Johannesburg.

Bonert’s novel covers the years from 1924 when his fictional family immigrates to South Africa and takes us a few years past World War II. It also includes flashbacks to life in Dusat, including a devastating progrom when his mother was a teenager. A good part of the plot deals with World War II, especially with the plight of Isaac’s mother’s sisters and their families stranded back in Lithuania as the war is heating up.

Bonert creates a last chapter devoted to Isaac’s sister Rively that takes place in Israel after the war where Rively now lives. She meets a woman who had immigrated from Dusat who shows her the Jaeger report, written by a Nazi functionary,  that includes statistics of how many Lithuanian Jews perished.

Besides his deftly grounding his story in the realities of life in South Africa and the realities of World War II, one of the great pleasures of the novel is the author’s use of language. Throughout the novel we hear characters speaking Yiddish, Yiddish inflected English, English interlaced with South African slang, Afrikaans and indigenous tribal languages like Zulu.

This novel should be satisfying reading for anyone whose family immigrated to South Africa or who might want to learn about a Jewish immigrant family in Johannesburg, South Africa. In  his acknowledgements Bonert honors his grandmother who had immigrated to South Africa from Dusat. He also lists the sources he consulted including oral histories that have been collected from members of the Dusat Jewish community as well as the Jaeger Report.

To read an introduction to the Jaeger Report click here.
To read the Jaeger report click here.
To read an interview with the author click here.

Koppel and Hannah Raizel Bonert
   Pasey Bonert - son of Koppel and Hannah Raizel; married to Avril
         Kenneth Bonert - son of Pasey and Avril; author

Dusat, Lithuania
Johannesburg, South Africa
Doornfontein, Johannesburg
Greenside, South Africa

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