Throughout this thought-provoking novel, Matthee shows us how the environment where people are brought up, plays a strong part in who they become. She compares and contrasts the bright, open expanse of the Long Kloof with the darkness of the Forest, as well as the inhabitants of these areas.
The novel tells us the story of a boy who struggles to understand who he is and where he belongs. This boy is Benjamin Komoetie.
Despite spending his younger years in the care of Fiela Komoetie, a black woman, interference by white people upturns his life and sends Benjamin into the Forest to live with woodcutters. This transfer is confusing for a twelve-year-old, and even the insistence of his new white family that he has returned home, cannot quell his longing for the Kloof and his family there.
Matthee frequently uses nature to describe events in the story and also connects shades of dark and light to the places. The people of the Forest are almost backwards in their ways; they have little or no education and their homes are ramshackle huts. However, some of the Forest dwellers are aware of their insignificance to the village people and other outsiders. During a conversation between Elias van Rooyen (Benjamin’s new father) and Malie (one of Benjamin’s aunts), Malie says:
‘ “I’m almost forty Elias, and I’ve been outside this Forest only twice in my life, and that was just as far as the village….-I say again, if we should all die from a plague this very day, few would notice.’ (pg.135-136)
The Forest affects its community in many ways: it is the life and death of the woodcutters and families. Yet, being from the Long Kloof, Benjamin (now called Lukas) struggles to escape from a feeling of confinement. The colossal trees that tower all around and block out the sun seem to imprison him further. This reference is just after he reaches his new home, deep in the bush:
‘ They were somewhere deep within the Forest, it was dark and he was very scared for he did not know how he would ever get out of there again. It was like when you crawled into the crevices after rock rabbits to get at them with a stick and it got so narrow around you that you started sweating with fear.’ (pg.101)
This claustrophobia is very difficult to cope with after the hot, white light Long Kloof. Even the plants are different and Matthee emphasises how strange the cool greenery is compared to low yellow scrubland across the veldt.
The Forest people are uneducated and rely upon each other for many things. This is shown when the Van Rooyen family has to borrow scissors to cut Nina’s (Benjamin’s sister) hair. The family has very few possessions and when Fiela sends Benjamin his personal effects from the Long Kloof, they are immediately ‘snapped up’ by his new people. I think that the constant shade and shadow. Combined with always being confined to the Forest makes the inhabitants wary of the outside world and almost wild in their ways.
The Long Kloof id hugely different from the Forest and the Komoetie household is independent from the rest of the local landowners. These differences influence those who live in whichever community and Benjamin becomes aware of this. One of the moments where we see how he recalls his former life is a Sunday in the Forest:
‘ On Sundays he longed for the openness of the Kloof, or anywhere where he could have looked into the distance; the Forest was so dense, the forest people never saw far; apparently they did not miss the open country for the Forest was their home.’ (pg. 210)
Every reference to the surroundings that Matthee gives us, relates to the way the different people live their lives. This is an interesting viewpoint for the relationships within each community and as Benjamin interacts with either family, we are shown very different attitudes and characters.