This Life

Karel Schoeman (Author) Else Silke (Translator)


This beautifully written novel, by one of South Africa's most celebrated writers, has an almost hypnotic power that draws the reader into one woman's life. As a post-apartheid novel, This Life considers both the past and future of the Afrikaner people through four generations of one family. In an elegiac narrator's tone, there is also a sense of compulsion in the narrator's attempts to understand the past and achieve reconciliation in the present. This Life is a powerful story partly of suffering and partly of reflection.

Product Details

Archipelago Books
Publish Date
May 12, 2015
6.0 X 0.6 X 7.4 inches | 0.7 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Karel Schoeman, one of South Africa's most celebrated writers, is the author of eighteen novels and numerous historical works. In 1961 he joined the order of the Franciscans in Ireland, but was released from his vows and turned to library science. Schoeman has worked as a librarian in Amsterdam and South Africa, and has translated several world literary classics into Afrikaans. In 1999 he was one of only two living South African writers to be honored with a State President's Award by Nelson Mandela. His has received many literary awards including: the Hertzog Prize in 1970, 1986 and 1995; the SAUK Prize for African TV dramas 1990; the Stals Prize for Cultural History 1997; and the Louis Hiemstra Prize for non fiction 2002.

Elsa Silke is a translator, editor and lecturer. In 2006, she was awarded the SATI/Via Afrika Prize for her translation of Karel Schoeman's This Life. She lives in the Strand, South Africa.


"Schoeman's prose comes most alive in descriptions of the South African countryside, tracing light and shadow over the veld. He is unsparing with his characters, giving them few paths for easy resolution." -- Roy Hoffman, The New York Times

"Mr. Schoeman, in Else Silke's lucid translation, gives Sussie a whispering, almost incredulous voice as she sifts through the evidence from her life, pursuing answers to the mystery of her childhood. . . One of the author's most striking skills is his ability to turn these lethargic figures, so distant from their own inner lives and needs, into objects of empathy." -- The Wall Street Journal

"Schoeman brings together the threads of mystery, loss, and progress in a haunting final scene. . . [S]ubtle and sometimes mysterious, arriving at its most powerful moments unpredictably and honestly." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Translated from Afrikaans, this post-Apartheid novel carries the reader through four generations of Afrikaners and the value of memory. The tale of one woman and her deathbed reflections, it is a convergence of past and present permeated by gothic tones. This Life lyrically covers fear, violence, suffering, and other dark pockets of life while also stretching beyond itself into a modern melodrama about reconciliation." -- World Literature Today

"​There is so much I love about this novel. Its rhythm is near tectonic. It's slow as hell and it makes no apologies about it. It's profoundly indifferent to its audience, but not in a way that manifests in grating overt cleverness or narrative tricks. This is the opposite of that. Schoeman's unnamed narrator has no idea what an audience even is. She only tells her story from her death bed because she wants to understand her life. . . By the end (thanks to a particular narrative turn), I was reminded of The Magic Mountain. Like Mann's great novel, This Life is a narrative in a kind of sanatorium. The dramas are small and specific to these people and this place, and it takes very little, ultimately, to expose the fragility of it all. Schoeman's narrator, however, unlike Hans Castorp, doesn't "come of age" in exchange for her time. She learns some, sure, but it comes much too late.​"​ -- Chad Felix, Bookseller at WORD Brooklyn