Beneath a Copper Sky by Valerie Poore

Apartheid still rules in South Africa when Angela and Stephen take on a job as caretakers of a remote farm in the Midlands of Natal. Things don’t go quite as planned from the moment they arrive, and the young couple find themselves coping with a situation they hadn’t bargained for. But despite their initial misgivings, their affection for the country and its people grows. Africa and all its ‘exoticness’ creeps under their skin and into their hearts. However, it isn’t long before underlying tensions in the area start to unsettle them. What are these undercurrents that are both alarming and dangerous? And who is their enigmatic neighbour?

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My Review

I was sent a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much! My opinions are my own.

Beneath a Copper Sky reads quite like a memoir in that it is filled with tiny details that only the most observant note taker might notice, all of which are cleverly woven into a historical fiction here, with an added mystery.

The story is set in South Africa in the 1980s at the end of Apartheid. Main characters Angela and Stephen leave their business in London to move to South Africa in search of a temporary adventure. They are to become caretakers of a farm while it’s owners leave to travel for a year. The intrepid couple soon settles in despite being thrown in at the deep end without much of a handover! They are troubled by the inherent racism of their adopted country but quickly fall in love with the countryside surrounding them and their neighbours and staff:

“We were growing to love the country and the people here already, but there were undercurrents that were worrying. I hoped we wouldn’t find out the glorious exoticness was all an illusion.”

They get to know their neighbours fairly quickly with the help of a local tennis club and Angela starts having misgivings about one of their group, who is also their neighbour, Andrew van der Meer. His behaviour strikes her as false and shifty and she takes an instant dislike to him. This feeling is compounded when she overhears him having disturbing conversations which start to feed her suspicions about him. The first person point of view of the novel, from Angela’s perspective helps the reader to buy into her misgivings and wonder what on Earth Andrew might be up to.

I loved the Zulu fables that were included when Angela helps her neighbour Lesley set up a library for the farm workers and their children:

“..Lesley dictated next of why the owl only appears at night. According to the legend, he was given the task of watching a hole in the ground where a small bird had gone into hiding after duping the entire Council of Birds into accepting him as king. Sadly, the poor owl tried to watch with one eye and then the other, but in doing so, he lulled himself to sleep. The small bird naturally escaped, the owl was disgraced and was thus condemned to hide during the day.”

Meanwhile there is unrest in the townships and violence breaks out on the farms too, in the form of fires and an incident of a beloved Zulu member of staff being coshed over the head. Could these shocking occurrences all be to do with Andrew, as Angela suspects? The rest of the community believes he is a trustworthy, decent guy, so could she be wrong about him?

“The fire at the library was a direct message, but the veld fire was perhaps a more manipulative attempt to turn the farmers against their Zulu workers by blaming them for deliberate arson.”

The author lived in the KwaZulu-Natal province and it is clear that this novel is a kind of love story from her to the land she loved so much:

“Many people had told us Africa got into your blood and under your skin. As I watched the sunlight glint on the distant mountains, I knew what they meant.”

Beneath a Copper Sky was a highly enjoyable read with knowledgeable commentary on both the social and political aspects of living with Apartheid during this time period. Highly recommended!

About the Author

Val Poore was born and raised in England but at the end of 1981, she moved to South Africa where she and her family lived for nearly twenty years. She loved South Africa and all its people, but had to return to Europe in 2001 for personal reasons. Since then, she’s been working as a freelance ESL writing skills teacher and trainer in the Netherlands. Val shares her time between a 120-year-old barge in Rotterdam and a cottage in Zeeland, both of which seem to take an inordinate amount of time to maintain. She loves writing and as a distraction from teaching, she wrote her first memoir about her much missed former home in South Africa in 2006. Bitten by the writing bug, she now writes articles for magazines and blogs as well as publishing her own books.

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7 thoughts on “Beneath a Copper Sky by Valerie Poore

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