I received a copy of this book from the publisher for reviewing purposes
Book Title: Harry Mac
Author: Russell Eldridge
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 1st July 2015
Book synopsis: Tom and Millie are best friends who live in a quiet lane on the edge of town. They rely on each other to make sense of what’s going on in their lives and in the lives of their families – especially Harry Mac’s.
Harry Mac, Tom’s dad, is a man of silences and secrets. And now Tom is involved in one of those secrets.
At school, Tom sits through lessons on the arms race and President Kennedy, waiting until he can be back on the lane where life is far more interesting: why does a black car drive slowly up the lane every night? And what did Harry Mac mean when he wrote in his newspaper ‘people disappear in the night’? A series of shocking events and discoveries lead Tom closer to the truth, but threaten to tear his world apart.
Set against the backdrop of apartheid, and the incoming laws that further restrict what people can say and do, and where they can go, Harry Mac explores the human cost of this terrible time in South Africa. Best friends Tom and Millie share stolen midnight moments at the abandoned house where a recent murder took place. For me, this was one of those books I couldn’t put down. I read into the night most nights, wanting to know what happened to Tom, Millie and their families.
At first, things seemed calm, almost normal, until the late night rallies and police visits, Little Harry’s conscription, and the rumours about Nelson Mandela appearing somewhere whilst he was on the run. As awful as those times were for people who spoke out against apartheid and who were adversely affected by the government of the time under Verwoerd, they are still fascinating and this book is a look into how ordinary people survived. It is also about the relationship Tom has with his father, Harry Mac, and how this changes and evolves.
One thing that hit me hard was the story of the abandoned house where the murder had taken place. The story of the family who had lived there and what they saw as their only way out when their race was reclassified, meaning one member could no longer reside with the rest of the family, or they’d all have to be reclassified and leave what they knew. The events of the novel take a serious turn as Harry Mac is questioned over his activities and articles, and their maid’s son is arrested. Soon, the world they all know is darkened by shadows and uncertainty.
What I loved about this novel was seeing apartheid through the eyes of a child trying to understand it and what racism truly means to some people. There is a sense of why amongst the main characters, a protest against these people hell-bent on using their power to destroy lives of so many that they just don’t like. It is history repeating itself, just like World War Two and the Nazis hating the Jews or any point in time where governments have tried to separate races – perhaps not always to the extent in apartheid. The novel ends beautifully and I found myself re-reading it a few times to make sure it was the end.
Russell Eldridge’s book was moving, and I hope he has another book in him.