Dreaming the Karoo

Dreaming the Karoo

A People Called the /Xam

Summary

A spellbinding new book by the much-acclaimed writer, a journey to South Africa in search of the lost people called the /Xam - a haunting book about the brutality of colonial frontiers and the fate of those they dispossess.

In spring 2020, Julia Blackburn travelled to the Karoo region of South Africa to see for herself the ancestral lands that had once belonged to an indigenous group called the /Xam.

Throughout the nineteenth century the /Xam were persecuted and denied the right to live in their own territories. In the 1870s, facing cultural extinction, several /Xam individuals agreed to teach their intricate language to a German philologist and his indomitable English sister-in-law. The result was the Bleek-Lloyd Archive: 60,000 notebook pages in which their dreams, memories and beliefs, alongside the traumas of their more recent history, were meticulously recorded word for word. It is an extraordinary document which gives voice to a way of living in the world which we have all but lost. 'All things were once people', the /Xam said.

Blackburn's journey to the Karoo was cut short by the outbreak of the global pandemic, but she had gathered enough from reading the archive, seeing the /Xam lands and from talking to anyone and everyone she met along the way, to be able to write this haunting and powerful book, while living her own precarious lockdown life. Dreaming the Karoo is a spellbinding new masterpiece by one of our greatest and most original non-fiction writers.

Reviews

  • An astounding, disarming book, full of grief and beauty. It's a requiem for a lost world, but also a powerful dream of an alternative to our own age of extinction.
    Olivia Laing, author of EVERYBODY

About the author

Julia Blackburn

Julia Blackburn has written ten books of non-fiction, the most recent of which, Time Song, was shortlisted for the 2019 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize. Her family memoir The Three of Us won the 2009 J.R. Ackerley Award, and her two novels, The Book of Colour and The Leper’s Companions, were both shortlisted for the Orange Prize. She lives in Suffolk and Italy.
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