Book Review

Review – Red Dog by Willem Anker (translated by Michiel W. Heyns)


A blistering, brutal novel of the South African frontier from a major new literary voice 

In the eighteenth century, a giant strides the border of the Cape Colony frontier. Coenraad de Buys is a legend, a polygamist, a swindler and a big talker; a rebel who fights with Xhosa chieftains against the Boers and British; the fierce patriarch of a sprawling mixed-race family with a veritable tribe of followers; a savage enemy and a loyal ally. Like the wild dogs who are always at his heels, he roams the shifting landscape of southern Africa, hungry and spoiling for a fight. 

Red Dog is a brilliant, fiercely powerful novel – a wild, epic tale of Africa in a time before boundaries between cultures and peoples were fixed. 

My Review:

Oh my goodness! Where do I even begin with my review?

First of all, Red Dog is nothing like anything I have ever read before, and I have read my fair shares of books in the past 20 years! It took me one week to read it and I needed to gather my thoughts properly before sitting down and writing this review.

Red Dog by Willem Anker is a part fiction part fact historical fiction about the life of Coenraad de Buys, the Africa frontier back in the 1700. To say I don’t know much about Africa in this period is an understatement. Reading Red Dog and Coenraad’s life was truly an eye opening experience for me. From his unusual physical appearances to his ruthless personality; from his quest for no border to his lifelong migration and adventures; from the brutal environment to the savagery conflicts. Throughout African history, Coenraad was regarded as an anti-hero and forever an outcast. There wasn’t any dull moment in this book. I felt like I needed to take breaks from time to time so I could catch my breath and reflect on what I just read. It was mind-blowing!

Red Dog is extremely wild, dramatic, original, dangerous and riveting. It is a literary experience that I will not forget. I do find some parts quite hard for me to understand and digest due to my lack of knowledge of African culture and history; so it has taken me a while to finish this book. However what is most unique about this book and most memorable for me is that the story is written in such beautiful poetic proses. It in some ways “humanise” and “normalise” Coenraad. The enchanting prose and his merciless personality contrast drastically, it really is a very unique literary experience!

I will always remember this from the beginning of the book:

“I am a warrior and liar; I am a scoundrel and a teller of my own taken I am going to blind you and bewilder you with my incarnations, with my omnipotent gaze. I am a bird of passage, I am the wind beneath your wings. Stroke the small of my back and you will know I am no angel. I know you well. I know you can’t look away.”

This has pretty much summed up Coenraad’s life. An obsessive personality and a legend of outlaws and outcasts.

Thank you so much Tabitha and Pushkin Press for gifting me this copy to review! For all the literary lovers out there, you ought to check this out!

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