Joan Zawatzky: The Scent of Oranges

by Rachel Baker on January 10, 2009

The Scent of Oranges

The Scent of Oranges is Joan Zawatzky’s first book and was short listed for the Australian Books Alive Program in 2007. I was initially drawn to the book because I grew up in an area where Orange blossoms marked the boundary of county.  You woke up to the smell of oranges on a pretty regular basis throughout the year – whether it was blossoms or the smell of burned orange peels from the Tropicana plant. There was just something familiar to me about the title.

The Scent of Oranges kept my attention, though I am not sure I would say I was engrossed in the book. The book starts out with Linda’s return to South Africa after having moved to Australia nineteen years earlier.  She is drawn back by her father’s death.  Unbeknownst to her, this visit will send her into a spiral of ancestral secrets when her father’s last wishes is revealed to her in a personal letter he left for her.  Each turn she makes sends her down a more bizarre path than the last as she tries to piece together the tragedy that ended with her brother’s murder.

I thought the story to be a bit too unrealistic in that everyone remembered strange little details about the time of a murder twenty years earlier. I’m not sure if a slew of people could remember an event 20 years later and give just enough odd detail to piece together who a murderer actually was; especially when there is a long history of daily violence. I could be wrong though.  I did, however, really enjoy the historical aspects of pre- and post-apartheid South Africa offered by the author for the readers understanding about the political climate changes in a twenty year span.  I found it very interesting to get the background of some of the old tribes and how they had evolved. I was also fascinated with the traditions and the explanations of the South African cultures as they were explained in the novel.

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