During the summer of last year there was a shortlived “Ice Bucket Challenge”. People were challenged to empty a buckett filled with icewater over their head. This was in support of the terrible disease ALS (Amyotrofische laterale sclerose). It is a terrible disease in which the person progressively loses the power in vital bodyparts, the end is death.
Milla Redelinghuys, one of the two protagonists, suffers from ALS. We follow her life and her actions and her loss of actions and her thoughts.
The other protagonist is Agaat. She come in the household of Milla and her husband Jak, in order to take care of their son Jakkie. Agaat becomes part of the household, when she is still a teenager.
The marriage of Milla and Jak is like ALS, it slowly deteriorates. They have different opinions on how to run their farm, on how to deal with Agaat and other staff on the farm. Agaat is a kind of a project run by Milla.
Agaat to take care of Jakkie and a close relationship develops, even when Jakkie leaves the country to go to North America. Slowly but surely Agaat takes care of Milla, who more and more becomes dependent on Agaat, her help, her counterpart, her superior, her maid.
The two women have learned to communicate in their own way, they have developed their own language of silence and winks of an eye, for in the end Milla can only move her eyelids and in the end even only one eyelid.
Their intertwined stories develop in a political time of turmoil, a changing relationship between the different groups in South Africa. In this way the main characters in the book can be seen as different groups in the country, different colours in the rainbow nation.
Milla and Agaat have their difficulties and their clashes, but they are drawn towards one another. Jak stays aloof. Jakkie had Agaat as a first mother who taught him stories and how to love and live. Milla has a love-hate, a superior and condescensing and dependent attitude towards Agaat. And this Agaat travels her own route, she is stubborn and loving and reaching out to other people and she knows how and when to stand her ground, notwithstanding her hand-icap.
I think this book ‘Agaat’ is a mindblowing reading-experience, with the detail offered, the different perspectives.
By the way, instead of an ice bucket challenge, you better read this book.
Marlene van Niekerk – Agaat – Kaapstad 2004