REVIEW | Cul-de-sac by Elsa Joubert

Gillian McAinsh finds SA author's elegant memoir is a moving and relevant gift


Gillian McAinsh reviews Cul-de-sac by Elsa Joubert
n a pop-culture increasingly geared towards youth, the elderly are often invisible and it is remarkable that, at the age of 96, Elsa Joubert has had a new book published.
Joubert is perhaps best known as the author of the classic SA novel The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena, selected as one of the 100 most important African books of the 20th Century.
It was a trail-blazer when it was published in 1980 in English and in Joubert’s native Afrikaans, and it came at a time when SA was at the height of apartheid.
In a way, Cul-de-Sac is as much a trail-blazer as it puts the focus on ageing and death, subjects which in 2019 many readers battle to face.
It was originally published in Afrikaans as Spertyd in 2017 – when she was 94 – and publishing house Tafelberg released the English version Cul-de-sac on May 1 2019.
There are numerous challenges that come with ageing and not only the obvious ones such as seeing friends gradually die, losing independence and seeing your body become increasingly frail.
Joubert does face them, head on, and is as meticulous and unflinching as she was in Poppie as she writes about life in a Cape retirement home after losing her beloved husband.
There are the small indignities, as well, of electoral staff lumping all the residents of the old age home together in one batch and not seeing them as individuals, the reliance on nurses for daily hygiene, confronting the nudity of others and the fear of being totally irrelevant.
Fortunately, Joubert has a poetic eye and the lyricism of her words gently draw the reader through this process.
It is an authentic presentation of how life can be in old age, and at the same time an unsentimental insight into the human spirit.
There is no room for pity, yet Cul-de-Sac gives touching insights.
As Joubert writes, “I may be one of the last of my generation, born in the early ’20s, but I am still here. I want to know what is happening in this country.”
Joubert uses words to make sense of it all. She knows about a life well-lived and her elegant memoir is a moving and relevant gift for the living.

Cul-de-Sac, by Elsa Jouberg, is published by Tafelberg and retails for around R310...

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