Set in apartheid-era South Africa, George Alagiah’s The Burning Land marriages the suspense of a thriller, whilst not shying away from the political tensions and racial divides that defined the time.
Very quickly, after being introduced to some of the main characters, we are informed of a murder – one of the central themes of the book, however not the only one. Alagiah’s exploration of individual characters is a key takeaway from this book, with his honesty exploring the depths that people will go to in order to express feelings of hatred.
Even though this was set decades ago, elements of The Burning Land echo rhetoric used today. In particular, the phrase of “send them back” when used by a shopkeeper in the book reflects the prevalent racial tensions, whilst today we can still hear this phrase around the world being used by individual citizens, proclaiming their political stances.
Although this is his third book, The Burning Land is Alagiah’s first novel. Furthermore, he accompanied the books release with a book tour, where he spoke about his career, various social and political issues, and how all of these aspects fed into his latest writing. I was fortunate enough to attend his book tour’s stop in London, where he was in discussion with John Simpson, talking about the delicacy of civilization, likening it to a flower, and how writing fiction has helped to fill the gaps in his journalistic work.
Written to the standard you would expect from one of the most decorated British journalists, The Burning Land is both an exhilarating and shocking read and, to quote John Simpson himself, by buying this book, you “won’t be wasting your cash.”
Image Credit: Petworth Festival