Psychology student Vicky Watts goes to Plettenberg Bay hoping to discover what happened to her enigmatic great-grandfather, Dan Butler, who returned from the trenches of the Western Front in 1918 suffering from shell-shock.
Like the archaeologists working in the Letterbox Cave, the novel gradually brushes through layers of the past, revealing not only Dan’s harrowing story of war, guilt and love but reaching back to the foundations of modern South African society when a young Khoi flees the brutality of his trekboer master.
The mysterious cave, near Plettenberg Bay, connects the lives of the major characters and it is near this archaeological site that Vicky experiences her own life-altering crisis.
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This novel deftly ties the stories of three compelling characters from differing times together into a haunting work that traces the patterns of violence, survival, and the often guilty-feeling process of healing. The characters, especially Daniel Butler, are drawn with a delicate and subtle hand that makes their circumstances seem very natural and believable. The book offers a fascinating look at South Africa … during WWI that many American readers might be unaware of, and the tale of Daniel emphasizes the horror of war and its after effects in a visceral way. This lovely book is engrossing and will leave the reader thinking.
Historical Novel Society
Algar’s … ability to thrust us on to Dan Butler’s battlefield makes this a riveting read. But this is not only a soldier’s war story – it is a tapestry of three South African tales from three different centuries. The sinking of the Mendi and the Battle of Delville Wood make this book serious and austere. But the delicate issues of love, courage, regret and shame make it an honest, authentic novel. Letterbox Cave becomes the pivot for all three storylines as we travel between centuries and characters, sharing their tragedies and triumphs, as they follow their private quests for truth.
This charming novel interweaves three stories over two centuries with the point of intersection a cave in the dunes near the mouth of the Keurbooms River. Algar examines the effects of violence on individuals, both victims and perpetrators … [his] purpose is to look at issues of forgiveness and atonement … a thoughtful novel that brings together strands of our social matrix and carries it in a good story.
Mail & Guardian
Clive Algar’s Journeys to the End of the World drives home the senseless brutality of war and the psychological scars left on the soldiers involved. The book is extremely well researched and is therefore a must read for history buffs, as Algar delves into rich fragments of South Africa’s past with mindful candour, reminding us from whence we have come.
Garden Route Living
Algar expertly brings to life the daily grime, extreme stress and fear that characterised the lives of soldiers in the first world war. As Dan grows into a man, moulded by the worst of circumstances, Algar illuminates his changing psyche as he transforms from an eager young man to a traumatised, disillusioned and bone weary survivor.
The Namibian Weekender
Author Clive Algar writes well, particularly in his descriptions of life in South Africa in the early part of the last century and later in the vivid details of the horrors of trench warfare. His characters and plot are hatched with conviction and, although technically a historical novel, the book’s themes and preoccupations reach beyond the period piece.
There is plenty to recommend this book. It is ambitious and well researched, containing a wealth of fascinating material. At first the different journeys making up the novel seem too far removed from one another to be mutually illuminating, but as the three narratives gradually converge, to meet in the cave above the sea, the themes crystallize and cohere … There is much here of real value.
novelist and award-winning literary critic