The road to Absalom
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University of Cape Town
The Road to Absalom is set in contemporary South Africa, where, for much of the predominantly young population, the country's ancien regime is little more than a childhood memory. David is a young articled clerk living a hedonistic and carefree life with his model girlfriend, Georgina, in Cape Town. When the entire family of the Xhosa chief of a remote rural valley is murdered he is sent in search of any remaining heirs. The new chief would be a lucrative client for the law firm. The search begins at the site of the massacre. David discovers that the only surviving heir, Absalom, has been missing for several years. He picks up the trail at Absalom's old university, where an ex-lecturer tells him about Absalom's early political consciousness (dismay at his family's collaboration with the white regime), his increasing rebelliousness, and his eventual disappearance. Local gangsters tell David more about Absalom's life as a criminal and an exile from his own family, circumstances which led him to move to Soweto. David drives across the interior of South Africa to Soweto, but does not find Absalom. His contact there arranges a meeting with Absalom's mentor and protector - Pius, a chief drug-smuggler resident in Swaziland. The hours of driving give David the time and perspective to reflect on his life in Cape Town: his dysfunctional relationship with Georgina, his fixation on his mixed-race high school lover, Angeline, his unwanted job and his ambivalent relationship with his family. He suspects that his supposedly convenient life has been constructed from fear or self-deception, and he is forced to re-evaluate his motivations. The meeting with Pius uncovers broad issues involving local and global politics that have contributed to Absalom's family's massacre and to his disappearance. However, Absalom has left to train as a Sangoma. David drives to Durban, where another sangoma gives him directions to the initiate's retreat in the Drakensberg mountains. He finds Absalom's spiritual master, a secretive bushman shaman, who explains that Absalom had abandoned his spiritual studies when he was told to do so by a powerful Spirit of nature. With the shaman's help David experiences a vision of Absalom's new hide-away on the coast. In the morning David follows the directions of his vision until he finds Absalom. The pair combine their knowledge: it emerges that their respective pasts have locked them into their present trajectories. David's family and his law firm (as well as a giant construction company and the World Bank) are involved in the events leading up to the massacre, while the past betrayals of the chief's family helped bring about their deaths. However, the pair abstain from the roles described for them by history, choosing instead to construct their own responses in an attempt to continue towards self-determining lives.
Gastrow, M. 2004. The road to Absalom. University of Cape Town.