An old man is woken up by the wailing of a prophetess. Sitting on the veranda and staring into the dry veld he is beset with images of snakes hiding in the cellar beneath him. His peace is further disturbed by visits from his angry daughter, Susanna. Memories of his childhood on a remote mission station in Venda come flooding in.
Johannes remembers his father’s internment at Koffiefontein during World War II, leaving him and his sister free to make friendships, explore the mythical forests that surround their house and to connect with the spirit world of the Bavenda . On his return, the missionary tries to impose order on the mission station with tragic consequences.
This poignant, poetic novel interweaves a 1940s German mission childhood in the Venda heartland with the stark present for an ailing father and his troubled daughter. The evocative images and provocative questions persist long after the final page.
“In Shooting Snakes the past is a powerful and insistent presence. In the beguiling rhythms of the narrative, its carefully plotted to-and-fro chronology, lies a profound understanding of the vexed relationship between past and present. In this skilfully wrought novel, Maren Bodenstein brings to light a little-known aspect of South African history.”
“Shooting Snakes is saturated with yearning, with the need, to paraphrase H.G. Wells, to bridge the gulf between what was and what is. It is a stratified novel, one that uncovers layer after layer of loss: the historical dispossession of the VhaVenda, the rents in Johannes’s family, the near-breakdown state of Susanna. When at the end the holumbe is seen again, the effect is heart-wrenching.”
“[Shooting Snakes] is a moving depiction of the confusion and pain of this old man, forgiven in his old age for sins he could not really help. It is written with a tender lightness of touch that belies the seriousness of its themes. Maren Bodenstein shows us the negative effects of what were considered positive and disciplined endeavours, but does not comment on or judge her characters.”