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Book review: Garden of the Plagues by Russel Brownlee

When the Tulip sails into Table Bay  in 1685 it bears four dead passengers and rumour of the Plague. Adam Wijk, the Company’s reclusive gardener and part-time physician is ordered by Commander Van der Stel to take charge of the only surviving passenger. Russel Brownlee is historian, philosopher and word artist. He paints a magical portrait  of life at the Cape in the seventeenth century.

“The Tavern of the  Green Door, so conveniently located on the strand, is both a business and a residence. The public house occupies a large room facing the sea. The door that gives the tapperij its name opens northwards to give a view of the bay and to attract custom from that direction. Southwards, toward the mountain, is a kitchen – and further along into the house there is a  bedroom and, further still, a second, larger room. This room was, until recently, the voorkamer – the place in which visitors were entertained – but now it has been transformed by the addition of several beds into what appears to be guest accommodation.

It should not be imagined that the layout of this dwelling follows any particular rule of architecture. One would imagine, for instance, that the rooms – being lined up one next the other as they are – would be neatly serviced by a connecting passageway. But such would be to assume too much of a free man’s dwelling in the Valley Hamlet. To achieve a more realistic perception of the situation, consider rather how such a dwelling would have been built. This one, like many others of its kind, began its life as a single rectangular room, built with mud bricks, floored with cow dung (polished to a high gloss), and topped with a thatched roof. It remained thus for several years, until new owners moved in and began to look about them with an eye to expansion. The Lady of the house, not being the sort who would settle for life in a single room, wasted little time in convincing her husband to build on a further room in which to house the nuptial bed, and later another in which to house a proper kitchen, and then later still another…”

Published by Human & Rosseau      ISBN  0-7981-4518-8

Buy it here: click here

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