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Booker International Longlist 2020: Red Dog by Willem Anker

Red Dog

And that ladies and gentlemen is a wrap. We have successfully managed between us to read every book from the longlist. For our final review and rating I will hand you over to RachelO.

Details from the Booker Website: In the 18th century, a giant bestrides the border of the Cape Colony frontier. Coenraad de Buys is a legend, a polygamist, a swindler and a big talker; a rebel who fights with Xhosa chieftains against the Boers and British; the fierce patriarch of a sprawling mixed-race family with a veritable tribe of followers; a savage enemy and a loyal ally. Like the wild dogs who are always at his heels, he roams the shifting landscape of southern Africa, hungry and spoiling for a fight.
Red Dog is a brilliant, fiercely powerful novel – a wild, epic tale of Africa in a time before boundaries between cultures and peoples were fixed.

Willem Anker was born in Citrusdal in the Western Cape in 1979 and lectures in creative writing at Stellenbosch University. His first novel, Siegfried, was published in 2007. Red Dog was published in Afrikaans in 2014 and won six major literary prizes in South Africa. It is his first novel to be translated into English.


Michiel Heyns grew up in various towns and cities all over South Africa, and studied at the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cambridge. He lectured in English at the University of Stellenbosch until 2003, when he took retirement to write full-time. Apart from a book on the nineteenth-century novel and many critical essays, he has published eight novels, the latest of which is I am Pandarus (Jonathan Ball, 2017). A ninth, A Poor Season for Whales, is due out in March 2020. He has produced several translations, two of which, Marlene van Niekerk’s The Way of the Women and Chris Barnard’s Bundu,  were short-listed for the (then) Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Rachel’s Thoughts: This is my surprise pick of the longlist. A big, bloody, ugly South African frontier story based on the man-legend-rebel-scoundrel Coenraad de Buys – a book I wouldn’t have normally given a second glance. I loved it!

From the opening lines, the writing shines. The language is rich, playful, evocative (for good or bad) and there’s a joy in the translation. Names mean something. Lists matter. And if you use the same insult twice, you’re just not trying. Buys, as a character, is complicated, but not unlikeable, and his wives (did we mention the polygamy?), children, and rare friendships bring extra warmth to proceedings. Whilst I do admit to skimming a couple of the pillaging scenes, the more unexpected kitchen- or printing press-scenes were surprisingly touching.

I chuckled, I came close to shedding a tear, I learned how little I know about South Africa‘s history, and I was thoroughly entertained. I may even go as far as reading it again.

Writing: 5/5
Originality: 3/5
Characters: 4/4
Plot: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 17.5/20

Tyll 19/20
The Eighth Life 18.5
Red Dog 17.5
Little Eyes 17
Memory Police 15.5
Faces on the Tip of my Tongue 14.17
Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree 14
Mac and his Problem 12.5
The Other Name Septology 11.33
The Discomfort of Evening 11
The Adventures of China Iron 10.5
Hurricane Season 9.75
Serotonin 8.375

Have your read this one? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments



2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mike Avellar #

    When i add the sub-part scores, I get a total of 17.5, not 15.5.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 30, 2020
    • Book Worm #

      Well spotted I have now updated will have to sort formatting tomorrow when on the PC


      March 30, 2020

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