The Lion Seeker

The Lion Seeker

A Novel

Book - 2013
Average Rating:
5
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Are you a stupid or a clever? Such is the refrain in Isaac Helger's mind as he makes his way from redheaded hooligan to searching adolescent to striving young man on the make. His mother's question haunts every choice. Are you a stupid or a clever? Will you find a way to lift your family out of Johannesburg's poor inner city, to buy a house in the suburbs, to bring your aunts and cousins from Lithuania? Isaac's mother is a strong woman and a scarred woman; her maimed face taunts him with a past no one will discuss. As World War II approaches, then falls upon them, they hurtle toward a catastrophic reckoning. Isaac must make decisions that, at first, only seem to be life-or-death, then actually are. Meanwhile, South Africa's history, bound up with Europe's but inflected with its own accents--Afrikaans, Zulu, Yiddish, English--begins to unravel. Isaac's vibrant, working-class, Jewish neighborhood lies near the African slums; under cover of night, the slums are razed, the residents forced off to townships. Isaac's fortune-seeking takes him to the privileged seclusion of the Johannesburg suburbs, where he will court forbidden love. It partners him with the unlucky, unsinkable Hugo Bleznick, selling miracle products to suspicious farmers. And it leads him into a feud with a grayshirt Afrikaaner who insidiously undermines him in the auto shop, where Isaac has found the only work that ever felt true. And then his mother's secret, long carefully guarded, takes them to the diamond mines, where everything is covered in a thin, metallic dust, where lions wait among desert rocks, and where Isaac will begin to learn the bittersweet reality of success bought at truly any cost. A thrilling ride through the life of one fumbling young hero, The Lion Seeker is a glorious reinvention of the classic family and coming-of-age sagas. We are caught--hearts open and wrecked--between the urgent ambitions of a mother who knows what it takes to survive and a son straining against the responsibilities of the old world, even as he is endowed with the freedoms of the new.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
Edition: First U.S. edition
ISBN: 9780547898049
0547898045
Branch Call Number: Fiction Bonert
Characteristics: 564 pages ; 24 cm

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w
wyenotgo
Aug 21, 2015

Occasionally lyrical, often gritty, this is a big, angry story about a tough, resourceful young man growing up in a chaotic world populated by deeply damaged refugees, abused native tribesmen, crafty charlatans, brutal Nazi-influenced bullies and roughnecks of all kinds. What fascinating characters Bonert is able to portray and how complex, real and deeply human they are, with all their foibles, contradictions, self-delusions!
Plagued by misfortune and betrayal, Isaac pursues desperate dreams of personal success far beyond his reach -- a Don Quixote tilting at windmills while having no illusions that they are anything other than windmills, and knowing full well that they will knock him down.
A totally absorbing story; yet I have a few quibbles:
Dialogue made up of a mixture of Afrikaans, Yiddish, Zulu and English, much of it semi-literate to the point of gibberish, all without a single quotation mark to separate speech from narrative will certainly present a challenge to most readers. A bit of familiarity with the expressions and cadence of Yiddish was helpful, but on the whole, Bonert's style often made for hard going even though it was very effective in immersing the reader into the milieu, as was clearly his intent.
I also got the feeling that toward the end, Bonert began to realize that the book was getting too long and he began to lose interest in details and tried to speed things up, skipping over large time sequences to bring the story to a conclusion. After all the tempestuousness that characterized most of the story, the quiet, rather sad ending struck me as anticlimactic.
Despite all of that, highly recommended.

w
wyenotgo
Aug 03, 2015

Occasionally lyrical, often gritty, this is a big, angry story about a tough, resourceful young man growing up in a chaotic world populated by deeply damaged refugees, abused native tribesmen, crafty charlatans, brutal Nazi-influenced bullies and roughnecks of all kinds. What fascinating characters Bonert is able to portray and how complex, real and deeply human they are, with all their foibles, contradictions, self-delusions!
Plagued by misfortune and betrayal, Isaac pursues desperate dreams of personal success far beyond his reach -- a Don Quixote tilting at windmills while having no illusions that they are anything other than windmills, and knowing full well that they will knock him down.
A totally absorbing story; yet I have a few quibbles:
Dialogue made up of a mixture of Afrikaans, Yiddish, Zulu and English, much of it semi-literate to the point of gibberish, all without a single quotation mark to separate speech from narrative will certainly present a challenge to most readers. A bit of familiarity with the expressions and cadence of Yiddish was helpful, but on the whole, Bonert's style often made for hard going even though it was very effective in immersing the reader into the milieu, as was clearly his intent.
I also got the feeling that toward the end, Bonert began to realize that the book was getting too long and he began to lose interest in details and tried to speed things up, skipping over large time sequences to bring the story to a conclusion. After all the tempestuousness that characterized most of the story, the quiet, rather sad ending struck me as anticlimactic.
Despite all of that, highly recommended.

ChristchurchLib Dec 16, 2013

"Haunted by his mother's pointed questions about his intelligence and character, Isaac Helger, the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants in World War II-era Johannesburg, evolves from a searching hooligan to a striving young man while struggling with a dark family secret and his own impetuous nature." Fiction A to Z December 2013 newsletter http://www.nextreads.com/Display2.aspx?SID=5acc8fc1-4e91-4ebe-906d-f8fc5e82a8e0&N=711899

f
fjvalentin
Nov 18, 2013

I found this to be a very interesting book. I can't think of a more turbulent time than Europe in the 30's, followed by WWII, then the beginning of apartheid in South Africa. All of these are the background of the story about a Jewish family who emigrated to South Africa to escape the Nazis. The story has many twists and centers around a boy who grows into manhood during this period haunted by a mystery involving his mother when back in Lithuania. Very well written.

Cdnbookworm Jun 12, 2013

This novel is set in South Africa, and follows a family of Jews who immigrated there from Lithuania between the wars. The father, Abel, came first and established a business repairing clocks and watches, and the mother, Gitelle and two children Rively and Isaac followed a couple of years later.
Some of the story is from Gitelle, but the main part of the story is from Isaac. Gitelle has a secret, but we don't find out the full extent of it until the very end of the book. She longs to be able to bring the rest of her family to South Africa from Lithuania, but first finance stands in the way, and later the laws enacted agains such immigration. Her hope is for a better home in a nicer area with her entire family and she instills this drive in Isaac.
First she discourages Isaac from playing with the black children near them, and encourages him to find ways to earn money, whether legitimate or not. This drive sometimes leads to success by Isaac, but more often his actions lead to him losing jobs or opportunities. His Jewishness is always a factor in his success or failure. Even when he defies his mother to take a job working for someone else, his hard work there doesn't overcome the issue of race.
Bonert's South African roots make the story come alive through the use of language throughout the book, and one really gets a sense of place from this. I read this book in only a couple of days, not being able to put it down once I got into it.

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