A haunting, gloriously imagined novel by the acclaimed author of History of a Pleasure Seeker (“a classic” —The Washington Post), set in early twentieth-century colonial Cape Town, and a forest full of witch doctors, stingless bees, and hungry leopards.
It is 1914. Germany has just declared war on France. Piet Barol was a tutor before he came to South Africa, his wife, Stacey, an opera singer. In Cape Town they are living the high life, impersonating French aristocrats—but their lies are catching up with them.
The Barols’ furniture business is on the verge of collapse. They need top-quality wood, and they need it cheap. Piet enlists two Xhosa [pron. KO-sa] men to lead him into a vast forest, in search of a fabled tree.
The Natives Land Act has just abolished property rights for the majority of black South Africans, and whole families have been ripped apart. Piet’s guides have their own reasons to lead him through the trees, and to keep him alive while he’s useful to them.
Far from the comforting certainties of his privileged existence, Piet finds the prospect of riches beyond measure—and the chance to make great art. He is sure he’ll be able to buy what he needs for a few glass trinkets. But he’s underestimating the Xhosa, who believe the spirits of their ancestors live in this sacred forest.
Battle lines are drawn. When Piet’s powers of persuasion fail him, he resorts to darker, more dangerous talents to get what he is determined to have. As the story moves to its devastating conclusion, every character becomes a suspect, and Piet’s arrogance and guile put him on a collision course with forces he cannot understand and that threaten his seemingly enchanted existence.