[Review]: "Dis Koue Kos, Skat" - Marita van der Vyver

One would think that a book made up entirely of one-sided correspondence would be tedious and uninteresting. But in Dis Koue Kos, Skat Marita van der Vyver does such a wonderful job of building nuanced characters, and introducing them to us through the eyes of the protagonist, that it does not matter that none of them actually speak for themselves.

Through letters, emails and, later on, SMSes, the reader goes along with Clara Brand as she makes sense of her post-divorce, post-apartheid, mid-midlife crisis world. Between 1998 and 2007, Clara writes to her friends, family, and even her enemies, sharing her worries, fears, insecurities, hopes and aspirations – for herself and for her children. Most of the letters are never sent, and others are only sent so that Clara does not drive herself to edge of sanity with her own thoughts.  Marita van der Vyver builds and draws the reader into Clara’s inner life, making her as real as possible while keeping her story entertaining.

Clara’s written rants and lamentations are by turns funny, cynical, sad and heartwarming. She deals with her ex-husband running off with her ex-best friend and her new precarious position as a single mother with her own kind of grace; through it all, Clara cooks. 
Food is the only constant in Clara’s life, largely because it is her job as a cook and food writer, but also because food gives her solace. Food does not stop loving you, food does not throw teenage tantrums, food does not betray your friendship – it just understands.

Each chapter in Dis Koue Kos, Skat begins with an instruction from a recipe. The instructions don’t all come from one recipe, but they do offer direction for Clara in that specific moment of her life. Chapters such as "Skil uie tot jou oe traan", "Sny oop en haal die binnegoed uit", "Vryf sout in die snye" and "Plaas alles saam in drukkoker" are particularly delightful, as they mirror Clara’s real-life struggles with facing her demons (the details of her failed marriage) and going through the difficult times in order to heal.

But Clara is not as interested in healing as she is in seeing her ex-husband Bernard pay for what he has done. Clara spends the latter half of the ten years after her divorce planning how to torture and punish Bernard, but she pulls herself back from the edge several times. Instead of hurting Bernard outright, she takes her best friend’s advice and gives Bernard enough rope to hang himself. In the end, Clara does not have to lift a finger to prepare Bernard a spoonful of his own medicine.

Dis Koue Kos, Skat takes the reader on a deliciously tumultuous decade-long journey of self-discovery. Each letter – and each meal – brings Clara closer to her family and to herself.

I look forward to seeing the movie adaptation on DVD soon:


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