Authors and Book Reviews  

January 20 - 26, 1995


 Coastweek   Kenya

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'Day Of The Broadbill'

Journalist And Sportsman John de Villiers’ Novel
Evokes Male Camaraderie To Be Found In The Writings
Of Hemingway And Steinbeck

Reviewed by Errol Trzebinski

‘Day Of The Broadbill’ By John De Villiers
Equatorial Books, Nairobi.
December 1994. P.P. 170. K Shs.500/- Softback.


Coastweek -- Many 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 novel.

Its promise should stand as a lasting tribute.

The action takes place in ‘Day Of The Broadbill’, aboard the ageing 28 ft. ‘Heather-Rose’.

Four disparate 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 late Forties.

Their lives unfold, serve to remind the reader that a common bond can be found, despite outward appearances.

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 surface.

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 tale.

But the factual recapping of MacMillan’s you-never had it so good’ Sixties, the ‘flower power’ generation and Kennedy’s assassination seemed superfluous.

Such milestones should not have been allowed to impinge on de Villers’s gift for storytelling, alas so newly discovered and too late.






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