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Crooked Seeds

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Crooked Seeds by Karen Jennings was an extraordinary read.
The writing was amazing. I will definitely pick up Jennings next title.

Thank You NetGalley and Random House | Hogarth for your generosity and gifting me a copy of this amazing eARC!

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A couple of years ago I read Karen Jennings’ novel entitled An Island which was nominated for the 2021 Booker Prize. I loved it (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2022/01/review-of-island-by-karen-jennings.html) so I was anxious to read her next offering.

Crooked Seeds is set in near-future Cape Town, South Africa, which is experiencing a years-long drought and wildfires. Fifty-three-year-old Deidre van Deventer lives in a dilapidated public housing complex after her family home was reclaimed by the government. She is contacted by the police when several bodies, including those of children, are found on the property formerly owned by her family. In particular, she is questioned about her brother Ross’s associations with a 1990s pro-apartheid group with terrorist leanings. When she was eighteen, Deidre herself suffered life-altering injuries as a result of a bomb believed to have been built by Ross. She claims to know nothing, but she is forced to uncover family secrets and question responsibility for the past.

Deidre is a totally unlikeable character. She believes she has been denied the life she deserves so is angry, bitter and resentful. She is both physically and psychologically damaged, but she has options which she chooses not to take, preferring to wallow in self-pity. She is determined to be seen as a victim in need of sympathy. She believes the world owes her and so constantly manipulates people to do things for her. A neighbour mockingly mimics Deidre: “’”Do this for me, do that for me, help me, help me, I’m a fucking cripple and I can’t do anything for myself.” . . . you are the most selfish person I’ve ever met.’” When another acquaintance suggests Deidre help out at a charity, she responds with, “’Why would I help anyone else? I’m the one that needs help,’ she said, poking her chest with a finger. ‘Me. Look at me. I’m the one!’” Though she does nothing to deserve the help of others, some people do come to her aid but then she shows no genuine gratitude. In fact, she abuses both herself and others. Her neighbour questions, “’Are you trying to be unpleasant, tell me? Is that your plan, to be unpleasant and make everyone dislike you?’” Because of her choices and unwillingness to take any responsibility for herself, it’s difficult to have sympathy for Deidre.

Of course Deidre’s upbringing, when she was overshadowed by her brother, affected her. Trudy, Deidre’s mother, always saw Ross as the golden child so her daughter was sidelined: “He was the one they spoke of. He the one they returned to again and again, throughout her life. Even when he had left, even when it should have been her, there he was.” Trudy tells Deidre, “’It’s just that there are people, like your brother . . . [who] can be just a bit more’” and “’Ross is special, that’s the thing. He’s special.’” After the bombing, Ross fled and though some people feel “’he should have been brought back and forced to see what he had done,’” Trudy’s version is different: “He had been no more than a boy when he was forced to go away.” Rather than blame Ross, Trudy says, “’I chased away my boy and he never got to have the life he was meant to have. He never got to live as he should have.’” Some more attention to her daughter might have meant that an accusation against Deidre wouldn’t be true: “’She lives across the fucking street and you can’t walk a hundred meters to see your own fucking mother.’”

The novel is really an allegory. Just as Deidre is forced to reckon with her family’s past, South Africa must reckon with its history of colonialism and apartheid and address its national and generational trauma and collective guilt. A policeman tells Deidre, “’the truth has to come out. To leave the thing alone would have been to deny it and cover it up.’” The first step to moving forward and making positive change is acknowledging and taking responsibility for the wrongs of the past. At the end, Deidre feels diseased and wants to remove “all that was rotten within her.” Fire destroys Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town, leaving “slopes of black and ruin,” but fire can promote seed germination. The book ends with a glimmer of hope: “If only the rain would come, just a little bit of rain, to wet the soil, feed the seeds, so that something might grow again.” Perhaps something better can emerge from what remains.

The novel is not an easy read. At times, it is a grinding read because there is little to alleviate its bleakness; in fact, at times I didn’t want to continue. Its message, however, is worthwhile. Though the book’s setting is South Africa, its theme applies to other countries; it certainly made me think of my country’s need for truth and reconciliation with our First Nations people.

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I bet there isn't anyone who will find Deidre likable or even sympathetic but she's an interesting and compelling character. The past- the past of her family- has rocketed back at her but she's mostly concerned about herself, not what happened to others. The world is drying up around her and this only fuels her anger. I have to admit that I admired this more than enjoyed it (Deidre is just awful). Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. For fans of literary fiction willing to endure.

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Literary fiction based on the politics of apartheid in South Africa. Deirdre is alone and disabled, making her way through life under a haze of cigarette smoke and alcohol in Government allotted housing in A post-apartheid South Africa riddled with drought. Her mother, Trudy, is in a nursing home afflicted by dementia. Her brother Ross who was the apple of her mother's eye is absconding since the event which cost Deirdre her leg. Her father is dead. Her daughter has emigrated to London. Then one day Deirdre receives a call from the police that bodies of children have been found buried in the plot of their old home. Against this backdrop unfolds the mysteries of Deirdre's family's past intrinsically linked to the political history of her country This is not a mystery novel. This is literary fiction documenting the politics of apartheid and post-apartheid. It is a description of one lonely, bitter woman, consumed with self-pity, wholly unlikeable living in filthy conditions and making zero effort to better her situation and another ill, disillusioned mother, grappling with dementia who cannot believe that her beloved son can do any wrong. Overall a short, easy, riveting read for lovers of literary fiction and fans of Karen Jennings previous novel An Island which was nominated for the Booker Prize.

Thank you Netgalley, Random House Publishing and Karen Jennings for the ARC.

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While an interesting story, I felt like I was missing foundational information that would have helped me understand and enjoy the story more. From beginning to end, this book felt like an excerpt from a longer book. Stories were introduced halfway or only alluded to as though the reader should already know the background story. I never quite felt like I understood the characters or what was going on. I wish there had been more.

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Jennings confidently captures an unrelentingly bleak narrative that weaves together the climate crisis - never fully explored, but gestured at - and the pains of post-Apartheid South Africa. Through the character of Deidre, she examines a white South African who is averse to confronting the violence of the past, who would rather turn away from it and pretend it is no longer relevant. Compared to her odd and fiery Booker longlisted novel AN ISLAND, this felt a bit thin. But it’s an effective quasi-speculative political novel about memory and reconciliation.

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Set in 2028 South Africa, amid draught and fires. From the beginning I was appalled by 53-yr old Deidre van Deventer's lack of hygiene, having no idea how very, very much worse her situation and condition would become. I wanted to know what really happened to Deidre's brother Ross after he fled the scene of his crime(s), could not fathom their mother's blatant favoritism, and truly appreciated the lifelike way that Deidre slowly confronts her painful memories. Karen Jennings' writing is practically experimental in the extent to which it details rock bottom and intergenerational decay, the reader is essentially observing the main character succumb to depravity. First thing I did upon finishing this book was add An Island to my To Read list.

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I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wow. The ending.

This novel is set in a dystopian South Africa where there is a severe lack of water. Deidre is a woman living alone as an amputee with limited resources--financially and emotionally. She struggles with addictions and with memories from her past.

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I wanted to like this, and I don't need to have likable protagonists, but Deirdre pushed my buttons and Trudy and Ross seemed flat and I disengaged. It didn't feel like Deidre was actually grappling with any great truth. Some of the writing was elegant, but I felt like dialogue could have been done better, and the ending was too abrupt.

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The concept of the novella is intriguing and the setting unique. The prose is sparse - perhaps reflecting the mood of the main character and the difficult environment in Cape Town. This is a challenging story to read.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for the opportunity to read this ARC.

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DNF - I wish I had had better experience with this story but I found the writing style less than engaging so I'm stopping off early. I'm sure the right reader will come around & find this story.

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Crooked Seeds follows Deidre, a woman who has fallen on hard times in an apocalyptic South Africa where water is in short supply, wildfires rage, and government corruption has forced many families out of their homes. When the police confront Deidre about skeletons buried in the backyard of her old family home, she is forced to revisit a past she'd rather forget. A stunning novel that I could not put down.

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Crooked Seeds by Karen Jennings is described primarily as being about a crime that happened at Deidre van Deventer’s childhood home. The story actually focuses, though, on how Deidre has responded to the many changes and challenges in her life and country since that time.

Set in the near future with South Africa facing serious environmental crisis with water scarcity and rampant fires, government corruption, and lingering consequences of colonialism and apartheid, Deidre is a very unlikeable character. She lost a leg in an accidental bomb blast caused by her brother, who then disappeared, when she was a teenager. She is sick, exhausted, addicted, and feels that the world owes her everything that she can never get, even though she brings much of it on herself.

The author is amazing at describing the awfulness, and Deidre really comes to life. You can feel her pain, the hole in her life from pushing others away, and her disgust. But, as other reviewers have mentioned, this really works best as an allegory for national and generational trauma. It does not offer easy answers or happy endings but focuses on the wounds that remain. As an individual’s story we miss the understanding about her daughter’s origins and the reasons behind the crimes at the childhood home.

I like this book more on reflection than when I was actually reading it. The author is obviously quite talented and manages a lot in a relatively short novel.

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing an e-ARC.

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Set in a near-future drought-stricken South Africa, Crooked Seeds begins like a dark dystopia, following a one-legged woman as she joins the early morning queue at a water truck. This Deidre is bitter and abusive — a self-proclaimed “thing of need and desperation” — and as she makes aggressively self-pitying demands on the people around her, it begins to dawn on the reader that, yes, there’s a water shortage and wildfires and government incompetence putting pressure on these citizens, but for the most part, the dystopia that Deidre lives in is of her own making. I was very impressed by the allegorical nature of Karen Jennings’ Booker Prize nominated An Island, and this novel continues in this tradition: Seemingly the story of one person (highly unlikeable because she refuses to take responsibility for herself) being forced to make a reckoning with her family’s past, the themes of Crooked Seeds can be extrapolated to any colonised country -- the first step in moving forward is acknowledging and taking responsibility for the traumas of the past. Really well done; especially impressive in such a short work.

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Karen Jennings has a remarkable gift as a writer. Each sentence packs a great punch and gives the reader a depth of meaning that propels the story forward in a well-paced momentum. In Crooked Seed, we are introduced to Deirdre van Deventer, a woman who is handicapped and left on her own in public housing with little water in a crumbling facility. She is a hard character to like as she is bitter and feels life has not been kind to her. She lives a marginalized life, but she doesn’t want to change and doesn’t want to leave. She has options but would rather wallow in her existence.

As Deirdre is the only one of her family left in South Africa, she is abruptly pulled into her past when the police contact her about her family’s old property that was reclaimed by the government. They inform her of an investigation at the site as they have found bodies on the property. She clearly doesn’t want to get involved and reluctantly goes to the old site to aid the investigation. As Deirdre is white and the officers are black there is still much tension from the past, with race and class. Smoldering resentment and expectations seep into each page and the reader gets a big dose of the despair that hangs over Deirdre’s life and the investigation.

The story is rich with meaning, and it even brushes on a pro-apartheid group and how Deirdre was affected by the actions of others. This is a great story and we the reader are privileged to be brought into the complexities of the story that are well told.

I do think this is a must read book and an interesting take on South Africa. I truly flew through this book and look forward to reading more from Karen Jennings.

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Cape Town in the near future...the lack of water availability colors all transactions. Deidra is an elderly woman living in public house - placed by the government after they reclaimed her family house.

It's a testament to Karen Jennings' abilities that the first few pages draw you in. The scene is not pretty but you cannot look away. As Deidre interacts with the local denizens we see that she is living on a thread and it is only by charming locals and garnering sympathy that she can get through her day.

Deidre's daily life is interrupted by the local detectives who have found something in or around the unclaimed house. Deidre is certain that this is something she has nothing to do with and wants to know nothing about. The detectives are working a case however and persist. This slow burn creates the spark needed to potentially burn what little Deidre has left.
Jennings is amazing and this was a master class in story telling!
#Crookedseeds #karenjennings
#Randomhouse

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I read Jennings’ The Island and it was my favourite off the booker prize list the year it was nominated. So naturally, I was thrilled to hear she had a new novel available on NetGalley- my special thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for a copy. I must say, stylistically speaking, Jennings's writing talent is impressive- in both her novels. Some people are just organic storytellers, and Jennings is very much one of them. Her writing especially reminds me of the work of Damon Galgut and Kazuo Ishiguro, albeit in a currently less polished state, although as Jennings is significantly younger than those two authors, she has plenty of time to keep progressing. This second novel has cemented Karen Jennings in my mind as an author I will continue to follow as she hones her craft.

The plot line of this, although quiet and slow, was intriguing as we, the readers, are hooked on digging up the secrets of Deidre's past that result in bodies being dug up from the yard of her old family home, I really enjoyed the character of Deidre. This novel is well worth your time- will Jennings do the Booker double and be nominated for the 2024 prize?!

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Set in post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa, Crooked Seeds traces the life of Deidre, a woman suffering from generational trauma having been made an amputee thanks to her brother's bomb making activities. Said brother was the gem of their mother's eye, always given the treats, always favored above Deidre. She now finds herself living in unspeakable conditions, not lifting a finger to improve her state and relying on her neighbors who are getting more and more fed up with her dependency. Jennings gives an unflinching account of Deidre's daily activity, such as it is, and brings to shuddering life what it meant living in Cape Town during the drought. As crimes are unearthed at the site of Deidre's childhood home, she spirals deeper into borderline psychosis, her story alternating with snippets of her mother, across the street in elderly housing, suffering from dementia. This is powerful, visceral stuff, not to be taken lightly.

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This book was not for me, admittedly. The book seemed promising with its setting in post-apartheid South Africa and the main character, Deidre, confronting her family's past. However, this doesn't really happen, nor does the subplot with her brother truly get brought up until you're about 68% into the book. Her brother's involvement in a pro-apartheid group was superficial at best and poorly handled (even if you try to throw in the topic of generational trauma, which also was superficial in this book). Nothing felt profound, especially because Deidre and almost everyone in this story are horribly unlikeable and unbearable, and the plot goes seemingly nowhere. There are also no consequences, so at a point, even our own character asks what the point of everything was.

Another issue I had with this book is the overt racism. Even taking into account the setting, story, characters, and more, it still feels so mishandled and problematic. It's even worse when you find out some of the characters helping Deidre (including her child) are black. While I will refrain from including quotes, I'm disappointed in the story.

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November 10, 2023
This short novel addresses dark and complicated issues regarding a family's troubling past in South Africa. We mainly follow the now grown daughter, Deidre, whose adopted daughter has left her over a decade ago and relocated to England, leaving her with just her mother, Trudy, who is in a nursing home across the street from the housing project where she now lives. Decades earlier, this family's son was involved with a pro-apartheid group, and it's unclear how much the parents about their teenaged son's involvement or their own political feelings, but not wanting to give away spoilers, Trudy seems to believe her son, Russ, is still alive and we read lengthy sections where it appears that he is bathing her at the home. I would have liked to had a glimpse into the life of Deidre's daughter, her perspective, but she was basically absent, while we follow a rather drunken Deidre who the police have contacted about an investigation about the remains of dead infants found on their property. Gripping novel.

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