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The Great Karoo by Fred Stenson

The Great Karoo by Fred StensonThe Great Karoo begins in 1899, as the British are trying to wrest control of the riches of South Africa from the Boers, the Dutch farmers who claimed the land. The Boers have turned out to be more resilient than expected, so the British have sent a call to arms to their colonies — and an a great number of men from the Canadian prairies answer the call and join the Canadian Mounted Rifles: a unit in which they can use their own beloved horses. They assume their horses will be able to handle the desert terrain of the Great Karoo as readily as the plains of their homeland. Frank Adams, a cowboy from Pincher Creek, joins the Rifles, along with other young men from the ranches and towns nearby — a mix of cowboys and mounted policeman, who, for whatever reason, feel a desire to fight for the Empire in this far-off war.

Against a landscape of extremes, Frank forms intense bonds with Ovide Smith, a French cowboy who proves to be a reluctant soldier, and Jefferson Davis, the nephew of a prominent Blood Indian chief, who is determined to prove himself in a “white man’s war.” As the young Canadians engage in battle with an entrenched and wily enemy, they are forced to realize the bounds of their own loyalty and courage, and confront the arrogance and indifference of those who have led them into conflict. For Frank, disillusionment comes quickly, and his allegiance to those from the Distict of Alberta, soon displaces any sense of patriotism to Canada or Britain, or belief that he’s fighting for a just cause.

The events of the novel follow the trajectory of the war. The British strategy of burning Boer farms, destroying herds, and moving Boer families into camps weakens the Boer rebels, but they refuse to give up. The thousands of Boer women and children who die in the camp make the war ever more unpopular among liberals in Britain. (In fact, this conflict marked the first use of the term “concentration camp” in war.) Seeing the ramifications of such short-sighted military decisions, and how they affect what happens to Frank and the other Canadians, is crucial to depicting the reality of the Boer War. By focusing on the experiences of a small group of men from southern Alberta, Fred Stenson brings the reality of what it would have been like to be a soldier in this brutal war to vivid life.


NOMINEE 2008 – Governor General’s Literary Awards – Fiction
NOMINEE 2009 – Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean)

© 2010 Random House of Canada Limited

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Posted by Pearl on Jul 28 2010. Filed under Fiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.
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