In Love's Place by Etienne van Heerden

Where the heart is

Gareth Langon reviews In Love’s Place, Etienne van Heerden's satisfying and surprising novel


In Love’s Place is an artful translation by Leon de Kock of Etienne van Heerden’s Afrikaans novel, In Stede Van Die Liefde, originally published in 2005. It is a novel of surprise and intrigue, absorbing you into a vivid South African landscape replete with immediately recognisable and relatable characters.

The book follows two distinct paths which ultimately intersect. The first is that of Christian, a successful, white, middle-aged dealer of African art who regularly commutes between Joburg and Cape Town. He was athletic in his youth, but after a recent heart bypass is always conscious of the “pig snout” in his chest, dictating his every move. This doesn’t stop him from leading a double life however, and throughout the novel he struggles to hide his cocaine habit from his wife Christine and his teenage son Siebert. Christian’s life takes an interesting turn early on when he is randomly attacked on the road to Stellenbosch, the victim of a local gang’s initiation ritual. He spends the remaining pages trying to out-smart and catch his pursuer.

The second path begins in Matjiesfontein, a small northern town just off the N1 between Cape Town and Joburg. The young Snaartjie Windvogel, a gifted violinist and pigeon-tamer has been kidnapped, and the local population – a rag-tag group of Lord Milner Hotel employees, law-enforcers and Lewis store managers – is preoccupied with finding the truth of her disappearance. The German music teacher, Miss Edelweiss, who something of an outcast, is a forerunning suspect, but her connection to the Windvogel child, the violin, and subsequently, Christine herself, is revealed slowly and with great thrill.

This is a complex novel – an attempt to sum it up will inevitably fail. What is most striking is the intricate weaving of character, place and plot line. There are lengthy descriptions of familiar South African landscapes – from Sea Point to the platteland – which would ring true for any South African reader, but which are rendered in such a vivid and unique way as to reinvigorate the familiar. The characters, far from stock, are various in their race, gender and social status but seem to all share the same local concerns and connections as their paths are adeptly sewn together to provide an enticing and exciting plot.

De Kock’s translation does not miss a beat and, as an English reader, I found the prose creative but not intimidating, complex but not verbose. In Love’s Place is an incredibly satisfying and thoroughly local read.

In Love’s Place is published by Penguin and is available from



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