Apart from writing thrillers, Wessel Ebersohn is also known for writing general fiction books. He has been published in the USA, the UK and most European countries.
His favourite novel among his general fiction books is, The Classifier, published in 2011. It is also his most recent of his fiction book list. The book is a story of a middle-aged man, embittered as he looks back on all he has passed through. He recalls his teenage love of Ruthie, a coloured girl. It is set in the 1970s when apartheid was at its height.
Their relationship is complicated by two factors: all sexual contact between the races is illegal, but also the boy’s father is head of the race classification office in the province they live in. His position is at the very core of national policy, being responsible for classifying all the doubtful cases into one of the races on the government’s list. He tells himself that his work is vital to the survival of white South Africans. The boy loves his father, but he loves Ruthie too.
The book is rooted in Ebersohn’s own close contact with the race classification system in those years. He says of writing The Classifier, “I did make an attempt to write it in the early 1980s, completing some 400 pages before abandoning the task. I think that at the time I was too absorbed by the injustices and was turning the book into a catalogue of race classification’s horrors. Ultimately it has taken me more than 30 years to do what I believe is justice to the subject matter.”
Among the South African reviews, Litnet said, “Ebersohn’s evocative and satisfying The Classifier is able to demonstrate impressive insights into a bygone era that will haunt us for a long time still.” The Stellenbosch Literary Project said, “It offers a vivid way of imagining and understanding the long-term effects of policies such as race classification, and the manner in which the repercussions of these abandoned policies still reverberate through our private lives.” The Witness: “Ebersohn’s dignified prose is laced with streaks of pure pain, the personal human story never swamped by politics or preachiness.” Coup: “Highly recommended and such a good read that I’m off to source his earlier novels.” Business Day: “This tale of young love in apartheid grimness is worth every last word.” Noseweek: “The author’s subtle, gentle approach to the appalling denouement is all the more effective for its lack of histrionics.” Radio Today: “What an outstanding book and author! A South African novel that really touched me. Highly, highly recommended!”
Wessel Ebersohn, on his writing: “I have always written. At the age of eight I tried my hand at my first novel, based on a football match. It was long on action, but short on plot or characterisation. It took an apprenticeship of another 31 years before I saw a novel in print. At present I am producing one every few years.
“My work has been particularly influenced by the great American novelists: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Hawthorne and James among them. But my subject matter comes from my life experiences and the continuing drama of my own country and continent.
“Of my earlier books, all of which I hope fall into the category of good fiction books, Store up the Anger is about the death of an activist in detention during the apartheid years. Klara’s Visitors is a satire, based on the idea of idea of Hitler’s diaries.”
General fiction book list:
Store Up The Anger, Gollancz (London, England), 1980.
Klara’s Visitors, Gollancz (London, England), 1987.
The Classifier, Umuzi (Cape Town, South Africa), 2011.