'Day Of The Broadbill'
And Sportsman John de Villiers’ Novel
Evokes Male Camaraderie To Be Found In The Writings
Of Hemingway And Steinbeck
by Errol Trzebinski
Of The Broadbill’ By John De Villiers
December 1994. P.P. 170. K Shs.500/- Softback.
journalists nurture the dream of ‘one day’ writing a novel:
John de Villiers was no exception.
For over a quarter of a
century, this professional newspaperman and broadcaster, had kept his
followers abreast of sporting news in Kenya and beyond
The pseudonyms ‘Petersfield’
and ‘Striker’ were equally familiar as
respective by-lines for his racing and fishing columns.
De Villiers planned his
novel for years; if the irony lies in the fact that he died nineteen
days after its publication, he at least fulfilled his dream just
before what would have been, his 71st birthday.
One poignant fact that
cannot be gainsaid is that ‘Day Of The
Broadbill’ is destined to go down at his first and only
Its promise should stand
as a lasting tribute.
The action takes place
in ‘Day Of The Broadbill’,
aboard the ageing 28 ft. ‘Heather-Rose’.
characters, Joubert, Doc Rosen, Khalid and the Major, are old friends.
Their camaraderie evokes
the brotherhood to be found in tales by Steinbeck and Hemingway.
There is the deep blue
Indian Ocean; the four men with one purpose on a Christmas Eve in the
Their lives unfold,
serve to remind the reader that a common bond can be found, despite
As a man, de Villiers
was gracious; his generosity to his fellow beings was wide ranging;
he respected form; the performance of the caliber found in hunters,
boxers, jockeys, race horses, pitchers, fielders and fishermen.
It is in the presence
of ill-matched but like-minded men of goodwill, in whose company de
Villiers himself once relaxed, boasted, gossiped and listened to
gossip, told tall tales, made rough jokes, that he shows us that the
sharing was important being together for the ultimate experience.
For just as Hemingway,
conveyed in ‘The Old Man And The Sea’ or ‘Fatigue’,
de Villers has brought to his yarn, all his experience and passion for
blue water fishing, the reason why he was lured back, again and again
to Shimoni, Watamu and Malindi; the gathering of male friends for
drinking and conversational exploits.
In the novel, as the
fishing lines tighten and slacken, the pace allows each of the four
histories to unfold once Jourbert, ‘decided to give the big tunny
its head, knowing, as did the others, that the yellow fin after a
long initial run, perhaps two, would seek sanctuary deep down.
There was a chance
then that its underwater pulsations of distress, while being pumped
slowly upward towards the boat, would attract the interest of a more
worthy prize, a big shark or marlin, and lure it nearer to the
The old ruse on this
special day was to produce undreamed of results.
It would be unfair to
hint at the outcome; the narrative leads the reader on, page turning
until Chapter 24.
Then, somehow the
journalist de Villiers, has been allowed to take over, vesting a
structural weakness that surely a good editor should have erased.
Certainly de Villiers
could have dealt with the defection of the ‘wannable’
anthropologist in two skilful paragraphs in this otherwise beguiling
But the factual
recapping of MacMillan’s you-never had it so good’ Sixties, the
‘flower power’ generation and Kennedy’s assassination seemed
Such milestones should
not have been allowed to impinge on de Villers’s gift for
storytelling, alas so newly discovered and too late.