My book review of 'You Will Be Safe Here' by Damian Barr

You Will Be Safe Here

by Damian Barr
You Will Be Safe Here
by Damian Barr

I had sparce information about this book when I picked it up and, in some ways, I think that enhanced the reading experience for me, so I'm reluctant to say too much here except...I want to shout it from the rooftops!

I'd seen the author, Damian Barr on Twitter for his literary salon activities. And I knew that he had written a memoir, Maggie and Me but hadn't read it. There was no blurb to read on my advance copy of the book and a cover design that gave little away, but I nevertheless started reading full of anticipation. This book has received a lot of attention.

And my! Is that attention deserved!

This book is just stunning. I was saddened, horrified and troubled yet completely gripped and didn't want to put it down. The writing is understated yet powerful, the characterisation vivid and poignant, and the historical context is shocking.

The book begins in 1901 with the Boer War. South African farms are being razed to the ground by the British soldiers and women and children are sent to camps, forced to endure terrible living conditions. We follow a mother and her son as she secretly records her experience in a diary.

Next we move to the present day and a young woman who marries quickly when she becomes pregnant through a rape. Her life continues to be troubled, as she tries to work and bring up a family while being ostracised by her community.

Her grandson is the focus of the third element of the book which feels initially as if it is three separate stories, though the reader is told these elements are linked. How they are connected ultimately comes as a body blow.

This is a wonderful, powerful, distressing book exposing, as it does, mankind's cruelty. It is a book I wanted to read again immediately I finished it, except that emotionally it would be too harrowing. It's extraordinary, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Review date: April 2019
Publication date: 2nd April 2020