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Pacific Book Review

Judy Witt’s Place of Crying tells three tales set in early 1880s Africa weaved closely together. The first focuses on two South African tribes, the Xhosa and the Khoikhoi. The second is on the colonial British protecting settlers. The final tale focuses on the Boers attempting to conquest or convert the heathens. The story begins during a war between most of the major tribes that draws in the British and the Dutch settlers.

While the story covers several years and a large cast, the focus is on a Xhosa and a Khoikhoi who fall in love. Coti, a Khoikhoi hunter, crosses paths with a fierce warrior named Tshane from the rival Xhosa. Coti becomes pregnant and the two decide to build a life together in Tshane’s tribe, as he is next in line to become chief. What follows is a beautiful and realistically paced relationship with ups and downs but grounded in a deep, abiding love.

The other two tales are important to round out the story. The British and the Dutch are both vital perspectives to the events of the region, but ultimately detract from Coti and Tshane’s life. Most of these sections connect back to the two lovers anyways as they are major players in the area. There are some small character arcs as British soldiers marry or struggle to keep the tensions in the area from bubbling over. These sections can’t be removed from the narrative and are thankfully short. Allowing for the slow
pacing until the narrative returns to Coti and Tshane to be a minor inconvenience.

The writing is fantastic and highly polished. Pacing, except for the British/Dutch asides, is equally well done. Everything works well when used to compare or contrast Coti and Tshane’s lives. Namely Coti’s transition from absent-minded hunter to beloved member of the community, and eventually a powerful medicine woman. Coti’s life is definitely the stand out of the story, and thankfully most of the events circle around her to an astounding effect.

Place of Crying takes a loving relationship set against a country constantly on the edge of breaking out into tribal war and examines the importance of connections. Despite being from rival tribes, a hunter and a warrior forge a relationship that surprisingly serves to calm tensions in the area. It’s a beautiful love story, written well, and starring flawed characters in troubling times in a gripping tale that’s sure to capture any reader’s attention.


The US Review of Books


Place of Crying: Inkaba Yakho Iphi? (Where Is Your Navel?)
by Judy Witt


“The lieutenant crossed the corner, deep in thought. There would be a hard year ahead, and he hoped the little village of Bathurst would be left in peace.”

Witt’s novel is set in Africa and begins in 1833. It is a story of war and peace, love and loss, the continual quest for a place to call one’s own, and the unending attempts by some to find a lasting peace between those born to the land and those drawn to it. The author skillfully walks a tightrope as she endeavors to faithfully convey the motivations and aspirations of both types of inhabitants. Rather than taking sides, she presents each. The result is enlightenment as well as entertainment.

Coti is a young African woman from the Khoikhoi tribe who meets and falls in love with Tshane, who is descended from the chief of the Xhosas. She becomes a spiritual leader as he assumes the responsibilities of leadership. Both are sorely tested as they seek to raise a family and run a village in a time of ongoing violence. Bentley is an English officer attempting to maintain a degree of peace among warring tribes, isolated homesteaders, and many Boers who have as much disdain for the British as they do for the Africans. As the narrative unfolds, all three of the principal characters’ lives intertwine as the years become filled with danger, pain, and sorrow but also happiness, joy, and fulfillment.

Witt fills her story with incredibly detailed enactments of cultural and religious ceremonies practiced by African tribes. Her vivid depictions of weddings, feasts, sacrifices, and more add an engrossing aura of authenticity to this tale of adventure. A writer confident in her sense of place and her storytelling capabilities, she has penned a novel that will appeal to those who enjoy learning as much as reading.