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A Long Letter to my Daughter

by Marita van der Vyver

Envy, I confess was my first feeling when I finished this book – I would kill to be able to write a book like this for my own daughter (and my sons for that matter!).   

I should really be writing this letter in French, but a second or third language will always be a language of the head rather than the heart.  And when a mother wants to tell her own story to her daughter, she has to do so in the language of her heart.

Essentially, the book is a beautiful, thoughtful letter from an Afrikaans speaking mother to her French speaking daughter about growing up in apartheid South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.  Its about school uniforms and prefects and first kisses in the bioscope and living in a time and place that is totally, totally foreign to her own daughter.  It’s about Ma and Pa and their middle-class aspirations.  It’s about holidays in Stilbaai with Ouma Hannah and Oupa Willie.  And Ouma Tina who who was so afraid of water that she never learnt to swim but married Oupa Corrie, a fisherman.  It’s about travelling, running away, following your passions and growing up.   And it’s about motherhood.  When journalists ask me what I regard as my greatest achievement, I don’t think of literary awards or a new book that is selling better than expected, but of my children who are becoming balanced, sensitive, likeable adults.  Motherhood is simultaneously the most common and ordinary, as well as the most difficult and daring task I have ever embarked on.  It’s about a mother’s effort to make sense of an increasingly senseless world.

It’s also an exploration of language and the books which bring us together.  Words open worlds…the world of reading inevitably leads to other worlds.  If you study the heavens, you keep discovering new stars.  That’s what happens to readers.  Through words on paper we become aware of a cultural universe that expands endlessly.

I loved it! Marita originally wrote the book in Afrikaans (‘n Baie Lang Brief aan my Dogter) so take a listen to this lovely interview with Phyllis Green if your Afrikaans is up to it!


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