Thursday, January 13, 2022

Hidden Karoo by Patricia Kramer and Alain Proust

I make no secret of the fact that South Africa's arid interior is my 'heartland'. My father was born in the Groot Karoo, and at times lived in little dorpies like Aberdeen, Hanover, and De Aar. During the holidays, when most sensible folks head to the beach, we head to the hinterlands, and the Klein Karoo, especially the area near Ladismith and Oudtshoorn, is high up on my list of favourite destinations. When Hidden Karoo by Patricia Kramer and Alain Proust landed on my review pile, I was immediately all grabby-fingered over the book. 

And for very good reason. On a long road trip through the interior, it is so easy to dismiss the landsdape when all one sees passing by in a blur of windpumps, scatterings of sun-bleached sheep, flat-topped koppies, and long stretches of what at a glance appears to be a Martian wasteland. Yet if you harbour a love the history of South Africa's dry hinterlands, or are idly curious and wish to know more, then this book will be for you. Those in the know understand that if you take the time to step off that highway, and spend a little time off the beaten track, you'll fall irrevocably in love with the land, its people, its nature, and its history. 

Hidden Karoo is not only informative, but it really *is* a beautiful book, filled with stunning photographs, bits of history and architectural detail, and plenty of information to get you planning your next road trip. The authors have divided the Karoo into a variety of regions, each of which is treated in a chapter, from the Tankwa in the west, the dry interior, and all the way east to the Camdeboo. 

South Africa's history is incredibly complex, the stories often painful when one examines the role colonisation and war played in shaping our nation. And by the same measure, we are left with a rich melange melding indigenous and European, in a way that is wholly unique and captures the imagination. Hidden Karoo takes you on a journey through time, to Loeriesfontein's collection of windpumps; ancient petroglyphs near Vosburg; British blockhouses of the South African War; outsider artist Helen Martins's Owl House in Nieu Bethesda... I can go on.

This book is a must-have for anyone who loves travel, loves South Africa, and wishes to dig a little deeper into some of the cultural and natural history of a region redolent with contrasts and ancient magic, and I cannot recommend it enough. 

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