Upturned Earth by Karen Jennings #BookReview #HollandParkPress #4.5*

Upturned Earth is set in Namaqualand, the copper mining district of the Cape Colony, during the winter of 1886.

William Hull arrives at the town to take up the position of magistrate, a position that no one else wanted to accept because of the bleak and depressing locale. He finds that the town is run by the Cape Copper Mining Company and the despotic mine superintendent, Townsend. Meanwhile, Molefi Noki, a Xhosa mining labourer, is intent on finding his brother who was sent to jail for drunkenness and has yet to be released.

Set against the background of a diverse community, made up of white immigrants, indigenous people and descendants of Dutch men and native women, we are given insight into the daily life of a mining town and the exploitation of workers, harsh working conditions and deep-seated corruption that began with the start of commercial mining in South Africa in the 1850s and which continue until now.

While Upturned Earth is a novel about the past, its concerns are very much founded in the present.

Complex & Captivating!

What a story! Richly detailed, this is one which kept me hooked from beginning to end.

William Hull is a find upstanding man of principle as befits a newly appointed Magistrate to Namaqualand, a remote mining community. He soon finds out why no one else wanted to take up the position; the area is bleak and depressing and very much in the grip of the mining company and their Superintendent, Townsend. The workers are made up of a very mixed and diverse group and one of the labourers, Molefi Noki is eager to gain information on his brother, jailed for drunkenness and still not released. As the story progresses, we are privy to the deprivations and ill treatment meted out in the name of ‘the company’.

This is a harrowing tale on many levels; it shows the disparity between the treatment of white workers and others and clearly demonstrates the pressing need for the ordinary man to rise up and work together for change – although that is not something covered in this book. The conditions endured by mine workers is shocking in the extreme and William Hull has no idea what he has let himself in for. Captivating and packed with interesting details, this novel is complex and involved and, ultimately, a rewarding read. This is a part of history that I knew nothing about but I relished discovering, even though it doesn’t always make for easy reading. Well-planned and splendidly written, I really enjoyed everything about it so I’m happy to recommend this one – especially to lovers of more gritty historical fiction – and give it 4.5*.

My thanks to the publisher for my copy; this is – as always – my honest, original and unbiased review.

Tags: historical fiction

Author Details

Karen Jennings was born in Cape Town in 1982. She holds Master’s degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town, and a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


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