The House on Sugarbush Road, set in post-apartheid Johannesburg shortly after the 1994 election of Nelson Mandela, is the story of the intertwining lives of a once prominent liberal Afrikaner family and Beauty Mapule, their domestic servant of more than thirty years. Cook’s intimately interconnected and finely drawn characters are white, black, rich, poor, beautiful, ugly, old and young; they are also hustlers, do-gooders, petty criminals and sensualists, heading towards dramatic explosions both inevitable and unexpected.
“I finished The House on Sugarbush Road stunned at the sheer life on its pages. I felt I had seen South Africa in a way that will always shape my thinking about it. The beauty of the language, the author’s eye for moving and incongruous detail, her understanding of the searing realities of post-apartheid South Africa — all are extraordinary. What Méira Cook especially grasps and explores with great delicacy are the ties that bind her characters together, a shared past but also greed, need, and something approaching love.”
“Méira Cook’s mastery of language paints an epic landscape on the backdrop of one of the world’s most important and exciting political events. Mixing issues of racial segregation and human politics, she constructs a rich cacophony of dynamic scenes that remind us that a complex landscape is only as meaningful as the relationships within it. The House on Sugarbush Road left me thinking, reflecting, and constantly returning to its keen sense of detail and characterization. As someone who was in South Africa during this time, I learned from Cook not only about the landscape and people I left behind, but the individual I later became.”
—Jury member, Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction
“Méira Cook’s novel The House on Sugarbush Road is a bold and intriguing portrait of life in Apartheid South Africa. Here in Canada we’ve read much about South Africa under white rule, but for most of us it’s been through the lens of the media. Méira Cook combines her knowledge of South Africa with her acute gifts as a poet to take us right into the streets and divided houses of that country. This is an ambitious book, full of energy, music, brutality and beauty, and Ms. Cook deserves wide recognition for her accomplishment.” Jury member
—McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award
“The novel is driven by a fascinating cast of characters and superb technique. Meticulous use of language, including Afrikaans and three local dialects, lends flavour and poetry to to the writing. [. . .] Cook has written a powerful, lyrical novel that ends quietly but with profound impact.” [Read full review »]
—Steph VanderMeulen, Quill & Quire (starred review)
“Although the novel thrums with gorgeously observed details of streetscape and landscape, as well as with astute historical and political, social and psychological commentary, the most arresting and engaging feature of this powerful novel, first and last, is its poetic language.
“In this regard Cook, who emigrated to Canada from South Africa in the ’80s, joins a distinguished host of contemporary Canadian poets who often turn to fiction to fine effect: think of Ondaatje, Atwood, Ann Michaels, Leonard Cohen, Daphne Marlatt, or, in another era, of A.M. Klein.” [Read full review »]
—Neil Besner, Winnipeg Free Press
“The House on Sugarbush Road is scattered with phrases in a cacophony of languages, and there is not a glossary to be found. And I love that, that we’re expected to find our own way through this wild book, that Cook doesn’t provide us a guided tour, an opportunity for gawking, for spectacle. We have no choice but to be utterly absorbed in the novel, an experience which becomes devastating toward the novel’s conclusion, which is brutal, inexplicable, the opposite of everything we’re trained to expect from a story.
“Except the very best stories, of course, which defy expectations. And so it goes with this one.”
—Kerry Clare, picklemethis.com
“Méira Cook is an extremely talented writer, and this spellbinding book deserves to be nominated for every major literary award.”
—John Herbert Cunningham, Prairie Fire Magazine
Chosen as a Top 10 Book of 2013 for the website Pickle Me This:
“While The House on Sugarbush Road is Méira Cook’s first novel, she is widely published (and lauded) as a poet, she worked as a journalist in her native South Africa, and her prose gorgeously reflects the former while her novel’s approach shows the latter. The effect is brutal, surprising, and provokes an incredibly visceral reaction.”
—Kerry Clare, picklemethis.com
WINNER – McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year
RECOGNIZED – Top 10 Book of 2013 according to Pickle Me This
The House on Sugarbush Road (excerpt)
Hear Méira read from The House on Sugarbush Road at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. Listen here (from the 53 minute mark)
Some nights Beauty dreamed of a land where all the lost children would be returned to their mothers. Those children who’d followed the tokoloshe into the coldness of the memory graves where the mothers couldn’t follow. One by one, the mothers would gather. Each mother with a remnant clasped in her hand: a piece of cloth, a few lines of scripture found beneath a pillow that hadn’t been slept upon, a wad of chewing gum. Buttons, a knuckle bone. The mothers would step forward one by one, one by one, one by one. The mothers would hand over these relics worn thin with grief.
Some nights Beauty dreamed of the huge brass cash register behind which the tokoloshe sat farting and picking the green onions from his teeth. Each time a mother appeared before him he stretched out one scaly hand to palm her offering as if it was a claim slip, a receipt. Pompously, with the drool of enterprise wet upon his chin he entered the numbers into his enormous till, rat-a-tat-tat. Ping!