East London author Russel Bradfield held a talk at the Dot.Com Cafe last week where he discussed his recently released book, Shadows and Sky.
As previously reported in the GO! & Express, Bradfield self-published Shadows – his first novel – last year.
The story takes place over two seperate but connected timelines. The first, set in the 19th Century, revolves around a number of prominent isiXhosa figures during the height of the 8th Xhosa War.
The second timeline takes place in the 21st Century and follows two young adults, Thandi and Mark, as they try and grapple with the history and legacy of violent colonialism in their lives.
According to Bradfield, the story was heavily inspired by Noel Mostert’s 1992 Frontiers: The Epic of South Africa’s Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People, which he came across while house-sitting for a friend in Hogsback.
“This is the best history book I’ve ever read. It changed my life, that is it changed that part of my life that is interested in Eastern Cape history,” he said.
Bradfield said he was troubled by the fact that Eastern Cape history, especially that relating to the Xhosa people, was often overlooked.
“It’s unacceptable that we undervalue the Eastern Cape,” he said.
While the 21st Century part of the story is fictional, the events taking place in the 19th Century are almost entirely based on fact.
As reported in the original interview, Bradfield said the only truly fictitious event in that half of the book was when George Brown, a European missionary, gifted a Bible to Totane, an assistant to Xhosa chief Maqoma.
While Totane and Brown did exist and while Totane did indeed help Brown, there is no evidence that he ever received a Bible.
After discussing some of the history behind the book’s narrative, Bradfield went on to explore some of the running themes and symbols.
One symbol that comes up often in the book is that of the Cape Parrots, which also feature on the cover.
“They kind of stich together the 19th Century part of the story with the 21st Century part,” Bradfield said.
“I was fascinated to see that the parrots were mentioned by the very first white people that visited the area.”
As Brown pointed out, Cape Parrot numbers are on the decline thanks to increased encroachment on their habitat by humans.
He said that the parrots in the book act as a symbol for the destruction caused by industrialisation and colonialism.
The biggest theme of the book, however, is how European colonialism and imperialism continues to impact society to this day.
The main story arc kicks off when Thandi and Mark are exploring the waterfalls around Hogsback and discover something that forces them to question everything they’ve grown up knowing.
“They find something that brings the elephant into their room. What’s the elephant? The land,” said Bradfield.
In their own ways, Thandi and Mark are forced to confront South Africa’s brutal history and the roles their ancestors played in it. This is the main cause of conflict throughout the 21st Century half of the novel.
For more information or to order a copy of Shadows and Sky, contact Bradfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.