Afstande | Historical & Mythological Fiction
Winner of the 2010 Sanlam-Tafelberg novel competition.
(Click here to read a discussion about Afstande delivered by Dan Sleigh.)
Dan Sleigh’s latest work is once more an historical novel. While Eilande was published in English set at the beginning of the Western presence in the Cape, Afstande is much closer to the foundations of Western civilisation itself. It is based on the Anabasis of the Greek soldier and writer Xenophon, in which he reported on what has been described as one of the great adventures in human history. This “adventure”, which began in 401 BC, was nothing less than one of the clearest examples of human hardship and endurance. The adventurers were an army of ten thousand Greek mercenaries who were hired by a Persian prince to overthrow his brother, the king of the mighty Persian Empire.
He ingeniously introduced another main character besides Xenophon, namely the Jewish eunuch Nagri, who was hailed as a prophet in Babylon, where the Israelites were in exile at the time. In Sleigh’s version the prisoner, Nagri, is used by Xenophon to compile the Anabasis from his cryptic notes. Afstande is therefore an intertwinement of the stories of two writers, namely the soldier-writer and the writer-prophet.
Apart from being a grueling, authentic portrayal of one of the most remarkable military adventures in history, Sleigh’s novel is a representation of man’s search for identity and stability in a fast-changing, turbulent and unforgiving time. He shows how religion and ideology paradoxically guide and complicate this search. Through his two writer characters, their alliance and the friction between them, he also investigates the passion, desires, conflicts, but above all the emotion that underlies being a writer. In this way Sleigh transforms antique material into something absolutely contemporary and he achieves what all great writers achieve, and that is to confirm the permanence of that which is universally human.
Watch Dan's appearance on Kwêla.
Dan Sleigh (on the right) receives his prize from Frank Louw (Sanlam).