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Who Killed Piet Barol?
Cover of Who Killed Piet Barol?
Who Killed Piet Barol?
A novel
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A haunting, gloriously imagined novel by the acclaimed author of History of a Pleasure Seeker (“a classic” —The Washington Post), set in early twentieth-century colonial Cape Town,...
A haunting, gloriously imagined novel by the acclaimed author of History of a Pleasure Seeker (“a classic” —The Washington Post), set in early twentieth-century colonial Cape Town,...
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  • A haunting, gloriously imagined novel by the acclaimed author of History of a Pleasure Seeker (“a classic” —The Washington Post), set in early twentieth-century colonial Cape Town, and a forest full of witch doctors, stingless bees, and hungry leopards.
    It is 1914. Germany has just declared war on France. Piet Barol was a tutor before he came to South Africa, his wife, Stacey, an opera singer. In Cape Town they are living the high life, impersonating French aristocrats—but their lies are catching up with them.
    The Barols’ furniture business is on the verge of collapse. They need top-quality wood, and they need it cheap. Piet enlists two Xhosa [pron. KO-sa] men to lead him into a vast forest, in search of a fabled tree.
    The Natives Land Act has just abolished property rights for the majority of black South Africans, and whole families have been ripped apart. Piet’s guides have their own reasons to lead him through the trees, and to keep him alive while he’s useful to them.
    Far from the comforting certainties of his privileged existence, Piet finds the prospect of riches beyond measure—and the chance to make great art. He is sure he’ll be able to buy what he needs for a few glass trinkets. But he’s underestimating the Xhosa, who believe the spirits of their ancestors live in this sacred forest.
    Battle lines are drawn. When Piet’s powers of persuasion fail him, he resorts to darker, more dangerous talents to get what he is determined to have. As the story moves to its devastating conclusion, every character becomes a suspect, and Piet’s arrogance and guile put him on a collision course with forces he cannot understand and that threaten his seemingly enchanted existence.

Excerpts-

  • From the book 1

    The adventures of his twenties had taught Piet Barol that it is unwise to begin with a lie.

    He slipped out of the premises of Barol & Co. and moved discreetly through the crowds, giving no indication of haste but nevertheless moving swiftly. He had taken the precaution of avoiding his creditors’ bailiffs, who were at that moment disembarking from the omnibus outside the front entrance. He walked towards the Company Gardens, holding his nerve against desperation.

    Piet had told his lie boldly at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town on a blazing day in 1908. It was an embellishment of an untruth concocted by another—­an American woman named Stacey, who was now his wife and the mother of his child. This lady exercised over Piet a dominion no one had achieved before her, for his was an independent spirit. She was seldom from his thoughts, and on this particular morning he could think of nothing else.

    It was Stacey who had suggested, moments after their arrival in Africa, that they introduce themselves as the Baron and Baroness Pierre de Barol, and Piet who had upgraded Baron to Vicomte. He had enjoyed this fiction enormously at the start. His French mother had given him the polished manners of that country and he loved watching Stacey dazzle the credulous audience of colonial Cape Town. She had a genius for mimicry and they spent hours crying with laughter. They laughed so much that for months Piet did not appreciate the price of his enormous lie. He was Dutch, not French, and far from aristocratic. The necessity of devising a fictional past made intimate friendship impossible. His numerous acquaintances knew nothing of his real circumstances and were inclined to be envious or bashful in his presence.

    For the first time in his life, he had no true friends.

    He walked up Adderly Street, doffing his hat at every store. He was a favourite of the neighbourhood. With the exception of two rival furniture makers, whose business had suffered considerably since his arrival at the Cape Colony, he was well liked by his fellows in the Chamber of Commerce, whose wives had sleepless nights after asking his wife to lunch. It was thought rather good of Piet that he should stand so little on ceremony. More than one competitive masculine spirit had been soothed by Piet’s sincere desire to see the best in them. In a land where the aristocrats of Europe had the social sanctity of deities, a French vicomte who lunched in public with tradesmen was thought of very well by them.

    For several years, while early success bore him on, it had given Piet pleasure to see the ripple of deference that spread out from his wife when she entered a room. Self-­confidence had hidden from him the dwindling of his capital. Circumstances now obliged him to confront it. No one, least of all the rich, troubles to pay bills on time to men who give no appearance of needing money. Stacey’s tales of her father’s railroad fortune, and the Château de Barol on the banks of the Loire River, meant that debts to the Barols did not feature prominently on the consciences of their neighbours. Piet had many more outstanding invoices than he had the energy to pursue. His languid approach to debt collection had solidified into an impassivity that bound him so strongly he often woke in the night, struggling to breathe.

    It was unfortunate that those to whom he owed money did not show similar restraint.

    He drank an iced coffee in a café and read the papers for an hour, then went back to his shop. He was met by the fragranced air, the impression of delights within, that made Barol & Co. one of the best patronized emporia in...

About the Author-

  • RICHARD MASON is the author of four novels: The Drowning People (winner of Italy's Grinzane Cavour prize for Best First Novel), Us, Natural Elements (longlisted for the IMPAC and Sunday Times Literary Award), and History of a Pleasure Seeker ("A gorgeous confection"—The New York Times), longlisted for the Sunday Times Literary Award and shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award. History of a Pleasure Seeker is currently in development as a TV series, produced by Oscar winner Alison Owen and directed by BAFTA-winning Philippa Lowthorpe. Mason lives in London and Cape Town.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 17, 2016
    In an ambitious tale of colonial greed set in South Africa in the first days of World War I, Mason reprises Piet Barol, the handsome, charismatic scoundrel who anchored his previous novel, History of a Pleasure Seeker. The Dutch Barol, an ersatz French vicomte and talented furniture designer living on the thinnest of margins, and his American wife, Stacey, who has secrets of her own, seek to make their fortune turning out exquisite pieces for the nouveau riche in Cape Town. Barol, assisted by the young Xhosa men Ntsina Zini and Luvo Yako, who consider Barol and the other whites the Strange Ones, treks deep into the Xhosa homeland to harvest the revered Ancestor Trees near Gwadana, Ntsina’s village. Barol’s isolation and his growing obsession with the trees take a toll on his relationship with his wife and son. Ntsina also has dreams for the future, including marriage to the beautiful young Gwandan Bela, though a confrontation between Ntsina and his witch doctor grandmother and his violent father threatens to destroy the family. With echoes of Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast, Mason unspools a story rich in detail and populated with deeply flawed characters whose lives intersect in the once-pristine forest that inspires acts sacred and profane. Mason handles multiple story lines with the élan of a seasoned raconteur.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2016
    The rake from Mason's preternaturally witty History of a Pleasure Seeker (2012) comes to an untimely end.There's something of a bait-and-switch inherent in this unlikely sequel in which the author seems determined to punish his primary character for the very traits that captured readers' imaginations in the first place. Our hero once more is Piet Barol, a Dutch con artist posing as a French aristocrat in Cape Town on the eve of World War I. But he's a much different man than we remember, coasting on borrowed funds and running his furniture business into the ground. He delights in his son, Arthur, but his shrill wife, an oversexed American named Stacey, is determined that Piet become a success. Though Piet is still a charismatic character, he's developed a palpable middle age melancholy. After taking a large order from a local mining magnate, Piet needs a new source for wood. He finds it near the coastal village of Gwadana in an untouched mahogany forest worshiped by the Xhosa people, and with the help of two Xhosa servants, he embarks on a complex scheme to convince the Xhosa that the forest is inhabited by a murderous creature. In the midst of this misadventure, Piet Barol ceases being the enigmatic raconteur and transforms into merely an instrument by which Mason can reflect on African culture, the sins of colonialism, and the roots of apartheid. By the time Stacey arrives in the company of a racist foreman, Frank Albemarle, Piet has very nearly gone native, and it's not long before karma catches up with him. Mason continues to earn his reputation with exquisitely crafted sentences and a dizzying knack for storytelling. But this is an unexpected, winding diversion that may catch readers by surprise. The strange, unpredictable arc of a born narcissist who turns out to have a soul after all.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from January 1, 2017
    Piet Barol, the charismatic hero of Mason's History of a Pleasure Seeker (2012), lives the good life in Cape Colony, South Africa, just before WWI. For five years, Piet and his wife successfully impersonate French aristocrats; then a poor economy catches them short. Their furniture store is failing when Piet learns about a vast forest of native mahogany. His obsession with harvesting the trees and creating high-end furniture at the expense of his social rival is the central focus of the story. Piet charms two young Xhosa men into guiding him to Gwadana (to ask the chief for trees), where his involvement with the tribal people foreshadows what is to come. The novel, piercing in its perceptions of South African history and the people whose lives were affected by the 1913 Natives Land Act, and lavishly descriptive of a country rich in culture and wildly lovely, subtly captures the reader's heart. Then breaks it. With well-drawn, compelling characterization; a frank and refreshing sensuality that permeates every aspect of life; and a range of complexity surprising for the book's short length, the novel turns the question posed by the title into a philosophical theme. Luminously reminiscent of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (1958) and recalling the disastrous culture clash of Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible (1998).(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2016

    Those who admired Mason's portrait of charismatic, manipulative Piet Barol in Mason's History of a Pleasure Seeker (set for a TV series) now get to see how he has turned out. Not honorably: he's in South Africa's Cape Colony in 1914, living it up as he pretends with his wife to be the Vicomte and Vicomtesse Pierre de Barol. Piet's scheme to raise some cash requires stealing mahogany from a sacred forest belonging to the Xhosa.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from October 1, 2016

    At the end of the Anglo-Boer War, South Africa was a gold mine for European entrepreneurs hoping to exploit the native people and virgin land. In eloquent, sensuous prose, Mason introduces two poseurs, Piet Barol, the randy hero of his novel, The History of a Pleasure Seeker, and his calculating wife, Stacey. Having lived above their means for years, the couple will lose their lucrative furniture business unless they take bold, deceptive steps. When Piet learns about a pristine mahogany forest in the north Cape, he hires Ntsini Zini, grandson of powerful Gwadanan witch doctor Notsake Zini to guide him safely through the land belonging to Ntsini's ancestors. Mason imbues the forest with life, taking readers inside the psyche of each tree, animal, or insect, as it senses the looming danger. The writing is so vivid that readers will wince with pain when Ntsini's ancestral mahogany suffers the first hatchet blow. Though Piet sincerely attempts to bridge cultural and racial barriers, his obsession and Stacey's intractable greed have devastating results. VERDICT Mason's previous novels have been long-listed for the IMPAC, Sunday Times Literary, and Lambda Literary awards. This profoundly tragic tale, in which colonialism battles tribal customs, and divisions of race and class sow distrust, should put him over the top. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/16.]--Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2016

    At the end of the Anglo-Boer War, South Africa was a gold mine for European entrepreneurs hoping to exploit the native people and virgin land. In eloquent, sensuous prose, Mason introduces two poseurs, Piet Barol, the randy hero of his novel, The History of a Pleasure Seeker, and his calculating wife, Stacey. Having lived above their means for years, the couple will lose their lucrative furniture business unless they take bold, deceptive steps. When Piet learns about a pristine mahogany forest in the north Cape, he hires Ntsini Zini, grandson of powerful Gwadanan witch doctor Notsake Zini to guide him safely through the land belonging to Ntsini's ancestors. Mason imbues the forest with life, taking readers inside the psyche of each tree, animal, or insect, as it senses the looming danger. The writing is so vivid that readers will wince with pain when Ntsini's ancestral mahogany suffers the first hatchet blow. Though Piet sincerely attempts to bridge cultural and racial barriers, his obsession and Stacey's intractable greed have devastating results. VERDICT Mason's previous novels have been long-listed for the IMPAC, Sunday Times Literary, and Lambda Literary awards. This profoundly tragic tale, in which colonialism battles tribal customs, and divisions of race and class sow distrust, should put him over the top. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/16.]--Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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