Dreaming the Karoo
A spellbinding new book by the much-acclaimed writer, a journey to South Africa in search of the lost people called the /Xam – a haunting book about the brutality of colonial frontiers and the fate of those they dispossess.
In spring 2020, Julia Blackburn travelled to the Karoo region of South Africa to see for herself the ancestral lands that had once belonged to an indigenous group called the /Xam.
Throughout the nineteenth century the /Xam were persecuted and denied the right to live in their own territories. In the 1870s, facing cultural extinction, several /Xam individuals agreed to teach their intricate language to a German philologist and his indomitable English sister-in-law. The result was the Bleek-Lloyd Archive: 60,000 notebook pages in which their dreams, memories and beliefs, alongside the traumas of their more recent history, were meticulously recorded word for word. It is an extraordinary document which gives voice to a way of living in the world which we have all but lost. ‘All things were once people’, the /Xam said.
Blackburn’s journey to the Karoo was cut short by the outbreak of the global pandemic, but she had gathered enough from reading the archive, seeing the /Xam lands and from talking to anyone and everyone she met along the way, to be able to write this haunting and powerful book, while living her own precarious lockdown life. Dreaming the Karoo is a spellbinding new masterpiece by one of our greatest and most original non-fiction writers.
‘An astounding, disarming book, full of grief and beauty’ Olivia Laing
‘Blackburn’s wise, wonderfully idiosyncratic books are poetic, informed by a…genius for serendipity’ Lucy Hughes-Hallett, New Statesman
An astounding, disarming book, full of grief and beauty. It's a requiem for a lost world, but also a powerful dream of an alternative to our own age of extinction. -- Olivia Laing Travelling to the landscapes of the Karoo, yet remaining tied to a corner of the English countryside, Blackburn explores the ruthlessness of colonial frontiers... Here is a work of astonishing breadth, clarity and power. Again and again, as I read, I gasped at the intense relevance and importance, as well as the beauty of this book. -- Hugh Brody, author of THE OTHER SIDE OF EDEN It is such a wonderful book. It made me stretch my hand to my lover. It made me want to show my children the footprints, scars and stones under our feet. It made me want to sit down to look at the sea... It made me deeply grateful that I am alive. * Max Porter (Praise for Time Song) * Both Wordsworthian and Woolfian ... This book is a wonder. * Adam Nicolson (Praise for Time Song) * Breathtaking... [a] splendidly rich book... I admire the intelligence, the appetite for discovery and the shining imagination that have gone into it. * Gillian Tindall (Praise for Time Song) * This book gripped me by its clairvoyant and poetic conversation with the past and Julia Blackburn's extraordinary sympathy and perspicacity in finding in the lightest and smallest traces the story of our human species * Antony Gormley (Praise for Time Song) * Poetic and fascinating * Olivia Laing (Praise for Time Song) *
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