Jan Hurst – Nicholson A humorous portrayal of a naive working-class family’s attempts to fit in after emigrating from Liverpool to South Africa.
When Frank Turner informs his wife and teenage son they are emigrating from Liverpool to sunny South Africa, he is unprepared for their hostile response. His defiant son makes his own silent protest, and his wife’s assertion that “we never shoulda come” is parroted at every minor calamity.
The bewildered working-class scousers are thrust into an alien world of servants, strange African customs, unintelligible accents, and unexpected wild life (‘crocodiles’ on the wall).
Their uneasy interactions with Zulu servants, Afrikaner neighbours, and foreign officialdom exposes their naivety, but they each learn to cope in their own individual way; Mavis overcoming homesickness by hugging the knowledge that when Frank’s contract ends they can return home; Gerry’s sullen resentment giving way to love of the outdoor life, and Frank masking his own doubts with blustering optimism and bantering sarcasm.
Having overcome culture shock, the arrival of Mavis’s parents introduces a divided loyalty when Gert and Walter’s National Health glasses and ill-fitting dentures are seen through the eyes of the Turner’s new South African friends. And when Mavis’s sister ‘our Treesa’ and her opinionated husband Clive visit, Mavis surprises herself by hotly defending SA.
The turning point comes when the family return to Liverpool for a holiday. Gerry has outgrown his former feral friends, Mavis realises she is now an expat; a misfit in her former home, and Frank has fresh misgivings about their future.
If home means a sense of belonging –where do the Turners belong?
Set back in 1988, this follows the story of working class Scouser Frank, his wife Mavis and 15 year old Gerry as they move from Liverpool to Durban, South Africa. This light hearted book was an easy read and kept me amused. There are many funny moments as they adjust to life in Durban and discover that in fact it’s not the jungle, but that it’s certainly not Liverpool either. ‘We never shoulda come’ is spoken often by Mavis in response to all manner of calamities, major and minor.
They make friends, adjust to the heat and get used to having hired help. The visits’ of both Mavis’ parents, and later her sister ‘our Teresa’ and her husband Clive, find Mavis surprising herself as she begins to defend South Africa and their new life. A visit back to England ends up causing both Mavis and Frank to rethink their decisions and confront their true feelings about where ‘home’ really is. Having lived abroad and experienced this for myself, I would have loved the author to have explored the daily struggles of adapting to a new culture more deeply. I do feel that the characters lacked some depth which this could have addressed. It would have also been lovely to have gotten a greater sense of what Durban was like when they arrived; the sounds, sights and smells which I didn’t really feel I experienced. Verdict: As a Kindle purchase costing me less than a pound this was an easy and enjoyable read but not necessarily one I’d pick up again. Reviewed by Lesley