By Shari Rood
Historical – 297 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald
Through The Cane Fields is the story of two young sisters living a life of privilege in Apartheid era South Africa. Delia Hallowell is content with her carefree, luxurious life until she meets a boy named Thomas. As the son of the cook, Thomas is separated by the divide of class and race. As their friendship grows, so does the realization that they cannot be together. Delia must make a choice between her true feelings and her family’s expectations.
When I was very little, my father packed us up and moved us to South Africa, of all places. I think it was quite a shock to my mother, one she never really recovered from. Since my sister and I were small and malleable, it wasn’t long before we came to know warmth and sunshine to be a regular thing and so we left the gray skies of England to brood and blow and rain down pellets of sleet and ice without us.
I confess I’ve wanted to write about my childhood for some time but it seems that life often crept in and stole so many moments that before I knew it, time had passed and I find myself in the twilight of my life. It is the natural course of life to flow like a river which twists and winds so that one often has no recollection of how we arrived where we are in the first place. Nevertheless, I am determined to set down as much of it as possible, if only for my own pleasure.
I was quite young when we moved to Gilford and so much has happened in the interim that it wasn’t until the day I went to the Botanical Gardens in Washington that I really started to remember. I think it was the smell of jasmine. It seemed to open some door, long closed, and the memories came in the type of flood that thrashes the trees and soaks the plains and by and by, disappears.
My childhood was glorious and we were fortunate enough to be wealthy. I do not think that the word had much meaning to me any more than a fish that swims in water knows what it means to be surrounded by the life giving substance.
We lived in an enormous house in the Midlands of South Africa. On a clear day you could see the Drakensberg Mountains in the far distance. It was a grand life and I spent many happy days lounging about, sometimes on the lawn and sometimes by the pool in my fuchsia bathing suit and tortoiseshell sunglasses listening to the various comings and goings. South Africa was beautiful back then. I know how important it is for things to change. We can’t always live in a bubble, but, as for my childhood at least, it was a magical time. I didn’t understand how the world works I suppose, all those black faces passing by the window on their way to the sugar cane fields, so hot in the morning sun. I still dream about them.
Because we came from England when I was so young, my sister remembers it all better than me. She always made it out to be a crying shame that we came here. Personally, the thought of Africa seemed exciting to me even then, but my sister wasn’t the sort of person who got excited by adventures.
My mother seemed happy, though somewhat put out over the loss of her social circle and group of friends. I suppose that in hindsight, it would have been perhaps better if she’d stayed in England. I suppose it’s not really my business to speculate. My parents had their reasons and we children could do nothing but come along.
When I was twelve years old, my father became the head of one of the largest Sugar Mills in South Africa. We left our stately home in the Midlands and we moved to a remote place down the south coast only a mile from the sea. My parents, being the busy and important people they were, didn’t tell us much in regards to Sezela but I conjured enough images in my own head to make me feel like a young Robinson Crusoe. I was excited at the prospect of meeting new friends and even more excited at the thought of wandering alone in the wilderness with only my wits to protect me from some jungle cat that might stalk me.
These pleasant images filled my eyes and ears, and though my sister babbled in the background, I barely took notice. The dreaded older sister didn’t want to go. She was prone to hysterics over much smaller matters and when she found out about our upcoming move she nearly brought the house down with her sobs and tantrums.