Translated by Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee.
In J.M.Coetzee’s stunning translation: a powerfully symbolic story in the voice of a slave that explores the depths of imagination, isolation, fear, and love. A slave woman is the only survivor of a failed expedition into the depths of Southern Africa. She shelters in the hollow trunk of a baobab tree where she relives her earlier existence in a state of increasing isolation. We are the sole witnesses to her moving history: her capture as a young child, her life in a harbor city on the eastern coast as servant to various masters, her journey with her last owner and protector, and her life in the baobab tree.
The task for the writer aware of fiction’s dangerous routes — and Stockenström and Coetzee are surely two such writers — is to find a way to write literature that resists reproducing harmful fantasies of romantic worlds forever beyond our grasp... Stockenström mounts a brave fictive challenge to utopian fictions that annihilate the present.
— Lily Saint, Los Angeles Review of Books
I'd love to read the entire novel to you, passage after passage because it's not only the story of a woman who struggles her way to freedom, but someone through whose eyes we see a world of existential beauty beyond the boundaries of dispiriting struggle. This slim book takes a place high in my own pantheon of beautiful novels come to us out of Africa.
— Alan Cheuse, NPR
[A] powerful, brief narrative about slavery.... J. M. Coetzee’s tersely brilliant English translation, which first appeared two years later, carries a tremendous lyrical charge... [His] tightly paced, restrained rendering of a complex text gives due weight to every word. It should ensure that Stockenström’s compelling picture of suffering and loss becomes a classic in English as well as Afrikaans.
— Elizabeth Lowry, Times Literary Supplement
This J.M. Coetzee-translated novel of a young African girl’s life, memory, and survival by one of the most important writers on the continent is one of the year’s most important books in translation.
Using image-rich and poetic language, the illiterate narrator vividly evokes enslavement, isolation, and longing.
— Publishers Weekly
Stockenstrom’s starkly dramatic tour de force is deftly translated from the Afrikaans by Coetzee, by whom it could as easily have been written.
— Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times
Thanks to Stockenström’s rich language (wonderfully translated by award-winning novelist J. M. Coetzee) and brilliant use of symbolism, The Expedition to the Baobab Tree is a heartbreaking story about what we stand to lose as humans, and about how what we stand to lose can never be returned.
— Three Percent
[Stockenström's protagonist] discards the constraints of human language, culture, and systems of categorization; unraveling her conditioning as a slave, she improvises a language of her own, a vocabulary masterfully crafted in Stockenström’s prose and expertly preserved in Coetzee’s translation.
— Dana Khromov, Asymptote
It’s a disturbing journey through the many pathways of this former slave’s memory, which gives this short book its power. Highly recommended.
— The Mookse and the Gripes
The Expedition to the Baobab Tree is a bittersweet novel that paints a complex psychological picture of slavery, and one woman’s struggle to maintain her humanity even under the most difficult circumstances.
— Words Without Borders
In a week when #WomenInTranslation month is announced for August, I find I'm already deep into the theme, reading this wonderful stream of consciousness narrative, translated by J.M. Coetzee.
— The Guardian Witness
“Every few years, a book comes along that I read only a few pages at a time, lingering over exceptionally well-crafted prose…this slim work... should be on every postcolonial studies reading list.”
— The Daily Beast
Although it might be tempting for readers to view the lasting significance of Stockenström’s lyrical, visionary and moving work solely in terms of racial apartheid, this novel, like Coetzee’s work from the same period, the masterful Waiting for the Barbarians, transcends the binary opposition of black and white. Baobab is an allegorical meditation on the male drive to dominate that which it labels the other—whether women or barbarians.
— Deborah Helen Garfinkle, The Kenyon Review
The life and experiences of the narrator are complex and multifaceted, and the psychology that developed in response to them is no less so. The Expedition to the Baobab Tree feels more real, and thus more successful, because of this ambivalence. The narrator is a novice when it comes to free thinking and self-analysis, which makes it a joy to observe her in the act, even when the heroic façade falters momentarily
— Cory Johnston, The Literary Review
Expedition to the Baobab Tree in many ways lacks precision or hard edges, like a dream half-remembered. This creates a heightened awareness of the details that matter, however, and, spurning allegory or symbolism, it has some real force to it.
— Danny Yee's Book Reviews
Seldom does a future Nobel-winning novelist moonlight as a translator, but JM Coetzee shines with his 1980s English version of Afrikaans writer Wilma Stockenstrom's The Expedition to the Baobab Tree .