The Lost History of Stars by David Boling
Algonquin Books, 2017. Hardcover, 352 pages.
Set during the Second Boer War, The Lost History of Stars follows Dutch Afrikaner Lettie, her mother, and her siblings as the men fight the British. Forced from their home, Lettie, Willem, Cecilia, and their mother are taken to a concentration camp. Supposedly, this is for their own protection. In the camp, the conditions are barely tolerable as they live in tents, share filthy latrines, and haul water via buckets. Often, there is no fuel for cooking fires for what little food they are given. On top of this, multiple families hare each tent. There is no formal schooling and illness runs rampant.
Lettie and her family must make do and part of her perseverance comes from what she learned in the past, and is shown through alternating flashback chapters in the first two sections of the novel. These chapters demonstrate how Lettie traveled into the bush with her father and older brother, Schalk. They also show the nights spent learning the stars with her grandfather and days spent receiving schooling from her Tante (Aunt) Hannah. Lettie uses these experiences to stay strong and learn from those around her as she both survives and come of age during a dark time in her life.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Lost History of Stars. Despite the somber topic, it was poetically written and the characters were strong. Lettie never let anything get her down despite the whole world seeming to be against her. It also astounded me that a man could pen a novel from a feminine perspective and have it come through without sounding overly masculine as I have often found to be the case. In comparison, the concentration camps in the Boer Wars were more reminiscent of the Japanese civilian POW camps (think my previous review of Thief of Glory) than those of the Holocaust. Either way, both were far from ideal. Throughout the novel, Boling managed vivid description and compelling dialogue that kept a reader drawn in.
The Boer Wars have been a popular topic of late, when also factoring the popularity of Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire about Churchill’s famed escape during that war (and I still need to read my signed copy…). What other book s have you read about the Boer Wars or are set during those wars? Do you think you will read this novel?
Thanks to NetGalley for the digital advanced reader copy of this novel.