About the Book
‘“INTENSELY DAZZLING…NOT A BLACK AND WHITE STORY, A RAINBOW STORY WITH THE RICH COLORS OF LIVES IN TURMOIL.” – Elizabeth Newton, author of ‘View from the Sixth Floor’
“A book to savor slowly…appreciating each moment. I found myself re-reading sentences and whole paragraphs; such was the quality of the writing. One of the best books I’ve read this year.” – Jean Gill, author of ‘Song at Dawn’
“The story of Stanwell and Elsa really touched me. Racial discrimination was so dehumanizing. This book took me to the days of the liberation struggle, and I experienced the hurt as I read. It was a real privilege to read the history, a period of pain and hope, as seen through Mark Fine’s eyes.” – Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe, Former Freedom Fighter & Senior South African Diplomat
“More than a daring, multiracial romance set in a racist 1976 South Africa, that nation on the turbulent cusp of collapsing due to apartheid; The Zebra Affaire grips your soul and won’t let go. Never mind zebras, think lions, raw and roar.” – Geoff Nelder, author of ‘ARIA: Left Luggage’
Check Out The ‘Goldworm’ Reviews For This Book
But, amidst the supreme natural beauty of Africa, there is also much man-made ugliness. Author Mark Fine has brought to life the trauma of South Africa in his stirring novel.
In the prologue, the author explains that for too long, the British and Dutch white people had dominated and subjugated the native people of South Africa. With that backdrop, Mr. Fine begins his gripping story of racial hatred forty years ago in the spring of 1976, as he describes how the lives of several South Africans literally and figuratively collided.
On a sunny morning, Afrikaner Elsa, who has just moved from her family farm to Johannesburg meets with Lydia, a British woman at her home in Sandton, the richest square mile in all of Africa. As they enjoy their tea, they hear the sound of screeching tires and clanging metal. They rush to the street and discover that a truck has crashed, injuring a young man. We learn that he is Stanwell, from the Malawi tribe who lives in the bleak and dangerous Soweto district.
The smashing of the truck causes the lives of the Afrikaner woman, the British woman and the native man to crash together in a life-changing way. Stanwell and Elsa fall in love, a love which is legally forbidden at this time in South Africa. Author Fine tells their tale of terror and danger in a fast-paced, yet sensitive manner. He understands the human condition and he understands South Africa.
Readers will not only be swept up in this exciting and thrilling story, but they will learn the true picture of life in South Africa under the legally sanctioned racism that was known as apartheid. Although racism and repression of the native African people had been allowed for years, the South African government officially made this cruelty legal in 1948 by enacting the Apartheid laws.
Mr. Fine explains that life in South Africa began to change in the 1970’s due to economic sanctions imposed by the rest of the world and also interestingly because of the introduction of television. But South Africa did not change fast enough to help Elsa and Stanwell.
Mr. Fine also provides detailed historical notes throughout the book to enhance the reader’s knowledge. I enjoyed learning more about the actual events that were the basis of the story of the fictional Elsa and Stanwell. There are many other interesting characters and stories in the book, too.
Apartheid ended in 1996 with the first free elections open to all. Former prisoner Nelson Mandela, of the Xhosa tribe, became the first freely elected President and the first black president. South Africans now describe their country as the Rainbow Nation as a tribute to their transition to a multicultural diversity.
I highly recommend this book, for the history that should never be forgotten and for the sweeping and powerful story that is told with grace and understanding.
It is not often a book as intensely dazzling as “The Zebra Affaire” by Mark Fine comes along. A forbidden love story takes place against the dramatic background of 1970’s South Africa and apartheid. Fine draws you into the story cautiously, laying the groundwork for the eventual affair between Elsa and Stanwell. By gently educating the reader with the background of the conflicts in South Africa, awareness of the difficulties faced by the star crossed lovers is enhanced. This is more than a racial segregation issue; there is a deeper issue brewing in South Africa. Tribal conflicts cause significant damage to a country beset by violence and political unrest.
As the love of Elsa and Stanwell grows deeper and more intense they are assisted by some to strengthen their bond. While segregation forbids open encouragement of their union, friends support them quietly. But the strict Afrikaner regime stands against them if not publicly at least in a behind closed doors attack on their union. While they flaunt their affair the government seems to stand in stunned silence as the world looks on. But the fanatics behind the scenes are both appalled and disgusted by their obvious sexual relationship and strive to expose and punish them for breaking hundreds years old laws.
With vibrant descriptions of both the beauty and ugliness of South Africa the story weaves its way to an intense climax. Waiting for the resolution of the love affair the reader will also wait for the resolution of apartheid. Knowing the eventual outcome of South African politics and the rise of Nelson Mandela it is easy to anticipate the same result for Stanwell and Elsa. In spite of some subtle foreshadowing of events to come the inevitable conclusion still comes as a shocking surprise.
I highly recommend this lush and beautifully written story. Fine’s use of words is akin to an artist’s use of the palette; this is not a black and white story, this is a rainbow story with the rich colors of lives in turmoil. In a word, it is brilliant. If I could rate it higher I would do so.
Reality+romance = relevance
This book came highly recommended and I put off reading it till I knew I had stopped having expectations. Preconceived expectations are never a good thing. The apartheid topic is one I don’t gravitate towards, because it still shocks me too much that people could and can be narrow-minded enough to judge others by skin colour, instead of character. I just get too emotional and enfuriated.
This story is two-fold. One is the social romance fiction based on historical events, and the other is the author’s account of the historical account, which is not fiction but interpreting and explaining the past. You may appreciate this or not, but the author forewarns you that it is your choice and how to watch out for it. The historical background account is certainly useful for those unacquainted with the socio-political situation, although the rest of my review will refer to the fictional part and author’s style. It is absolutely impossible to look at the storyline by taking it outside its historical context, but it is equally impossible to review politics here.
The characters, plot, emotions, descriptions are all reminiscent of the great movies from the golden ages of Hollywood, and you can easily picture someone like Grace Kelly playing Elsa, or Sidney Poitier playing Stanwell. Though at times I did wish there was more conversation between Elsa and Stanwell themselves, the scene with the beaded ‘love letter’ makes up for all the words. The implications of tradition in contrast with their rule-breaking speaks in abundance. However, despite this romantic duo, my favourite character is DGF — sort of love at first read, for so many reasons. Malan Zander, on the other hand, made me want ot leave the book as soon as he appeared, not for bad writing, but for hitting too close to home – the puny souls, abusing power every chance they get, are all too painfully realistic, regardless of time and culture. An entire tapestry of characters is well-displayed as you follow the battle of interracial romance with the world paralysed with bigotry and inhumane politics.
The wording is really rich, intricately written, with quite a few local expressions adding to the overall atmosphere and understanding of the two worlds melded into one. The style is consistent throughout, the syntax quite complex and vocabulary exuberant, and the topic absolutely noteworthy. The fact that the author actually lived in such surroundings and times exudes additional credibility. The contrast between the descriptions of Stanwell’s cursed mines and the media frenzy surrounding Formula 1 and fashion is excellently written, and leaves a striking impression on the reader, enhancing the depiction of injustice and inequality. As the story progresses and nears its ending, the analogies with the wilderness become stronger and serve the story impeccably.
The author does not limit himself only to displaying the brutality of racism, but other forms of tragic prejudice – mysoginist, antisemitic, bullying the weak, misguided and misdirected tiny lords with legal power. What a grand race humans could be, if we weren’t so puny sometimes! Nevertheless, Mark Fine shows very clearly there are no clear lines between the good and the bad, and it is not money, status or skin colour which makes us good or bad, but our nature. Family, loyalty, friendship, respect and love go beyond any limits and matter the most.
The Zebra Affaire is an old-fashioned, romantic but not deluded, vintage-like tale which is not to be rushed in and cannot be rushed. If you are looking for fast-paced, cliffhanger thrillers with wild erotic scenes, you might not find everything you are looking for in this book. If you are looking for a book that makes you think, and engages your sense of humanity, culture, history and language, this is one of the great ones you will enjoy. The writing here reminded me of music – this might not be something you dance to, but something you listen to carefully and in peace. There is much to be learned from such art.
I was mesmerized from the beginning of this story. The author paints a vivid, controversial scene right away. His character descriptions are thorough and make you feel as if the players are on a stage right in front of you – every single character! The love story has a Shakespearean feel to it that makes your heart ache for the couple, as with Romeo and Juliet. And each love scene is written beautifully.
The pace is steady until about halfway through, where it starts rolling and doesn’t stop until the very end. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a compelling, thought-provoking read.