The South African writer Dale Matthee (1938 – 2005) lived in George, near the Outeniquamountains. Also in the vincinity is Knysna with its lagune and the (former) forest, where in the olden days many elephants lived.
This forest near Knysna has become very important for the literary work of Matthee. This book has become the first in a series of four books set in this forest.
The main character of this book (set in the second half of the 19th century) is Saul Barnard. He lives in the forest with his family and others who log the immense trees. When he is 14 years young he leaves the forest for the first time. His father wants to sell wood to a merchant (British) in Knysna. In the end Saul wants to work in this town, with this merchant eventhough his heart is in the forest, but his relationship with his relatives is at a low. Therefor he has decided to stay away. He falls in love with Kate, the daughter of the wood merchant, but the relationship has to be a hidden one. When the father finds out that his daughter is on speaking terms with a boy from the forest she is send away to boarding school.
In this book we see a struggle for the survival of the forest, where age old trees grow and elephants roam. In the midst of this extensive forest people live, have their homes and have their traditions and their way of life in harmony with nature. The way of life for these loggers is under threat, just like the forest is under threat and the elephants and other wildlife.
First more commercial loggers enter the forest. They have money to invest in modern equipment. Next the hunt for elephants, in search for precious ivory. The third attack is by gold diggers (and all their families, from all over the world) and villages and hotels and pubs and schools pop up in the forest. Life is changing at a rapid speed. Saul Barnard tries to find his own way, realizing that the old ways are threatened, but the love for the forest is still present in his heart. He tries to get to terms with the changes, without losing his love.
Matthee did a good job with this book. She points to a way of living in the past that was important. It changed, it disappeared, but the forest is still important, not just for people but for animals (small and great) and plants and shrubs and trees as well. This book is an hommage to a forest and its inhabitants.
Dalene Matthee – Kringe in ‘n bos – 1984