Recessional for Grace
When a postgraduate student of African languages, looking for a topic for her doctoral thesis, happens upon an obscure and incomplete lexicon of metaphorical names for indigenous Sanga-Nguni cattle by a long-dead academic, she knows, instinctively, that she has found her subject. She is given access to his papers, his catalogue of index cards and field notes recorded in a remote valley in South Africa in 1946. Among his many photographs is a small print of a delicately patterned cow. In finding it she has, unwittingly, discovered a cipher to his life. In exchanging objectivity for passion, and in defiance of her supervisor's instructions, the linguist becomes the biographer. She begins to reconstruct the life and the lost love of a man long forgotten, to recreate a world to which she can restore him - and, in doing so, restore herself. Fact and supposition, instinct and intuition become blurred, making a new truth ... Recessional for Grace is an exquisitely textured novel. In Poland's assured hands, it is a love story at once delicate and incandescent and an exploration of the process of creation where sequence does not matter and past and present have a genesis apart from time.
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Marguerite Poland writes as if she is Grace; I read her as if I am Godfrey; there is a conflation of fictional characters and real people here, and the distinction becomes blurred as I read this beautiful account of a wonderful love story, set in the most alluring part of South Africa - for those who know it. I can only say that this book has changed my life and my outlook on the world more than any other: when I am alone. I fry eggs, bacon and tomatoes and drink whisky and play music; I think of my own "Grace", and know peace and understanding, and think wistfully of what might have been but gratefully of what there was: I am fortunate to have had that much.