Book review: The Burning Land by George Alagiah

Book review: The Burning Land by George Alagiah

reviewed by Frances Churchward.

The Burning Land is George Alagiah’s first novel. Alagiah is, of course, well known as a presenter of BBC news. Before becoming a news presenter, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC during which time he covered several major conflicts and he has previously published two works of non-fiction.

Alagiah’s novel is set in present day South Africa against a background rife with tension and xenophobia directed towards migrant Mozambican workers. Lindi, a white South African woman whose family have lived in the UK since her parents fell foul of the apartheid government,  now works for a charity dedicated to conflict resolution around the world. Following the murder of the son of a prominent black South African businessman, Lindi’s boss asks her to visit South Africa to contact a group known as The Land Collective, who are being linked to the murder.

Once she has arrived in South Africa, Lindi meets up with Kagiso, the son of the family’s house worker when they lived in South Africa and who now works for The Land Collective. Together Lindi and Kasigo travel to the area where the murder took place and attempt to discover who was responsible. Their journey is fraught and the pair must deal with the results of wide scale corruption and mistrust.

Alagiah does not shy away from some scenes of violence which, being of a squeamish nature, I found  necessary to skim over and there is a general tone of menace throughout the novel. I found the narrative to be a little disjointed in places when Alagiah pauses the plot in order to give back stories to some of the characters.

This is not any easy read and Alagiah presents a disturbing portrayal of South Africa today.  For anyone who has not kept abreast of the current situation in South Africa post Mandela, this book provides an informative, although somewhat pessimistic, political thriller.

Out now, published by Canongate. Available from good bookshops, including October Books in Portswood Road, Southampton.