The guys at Umuzi Publishers have been telling me about the remarkable Fred Strydom and his debut novel; The Raft, for months now. So imagine my delight when asked to do the conversation with him on the evening of his book launch which was held at the always lovely, perfectly cosy Love Books in Melville.
In a moment that is referred to as Day zero, every person on earth loses their memory. All of humanity is left in chaotic limbo with no idea where they are going or where they have been. All the systems and institutions that were constructed to control and categorise humans, disappear and people are driven by their most basic instincts for survival and a desire to return to the most fundamental understanding of community; the tribe, the family.
The lead protagonist sporadically remembers his son Andy in dreams, in fragments of memory and in moments of delusion. In other words, when he is not in control of his thoughts but submits to his subconscious, he finds purpose.
His identity is formed and shaped by his fragmented, melancholic desire to regain ownership of his memories and to find his family. Along the way, he meets amazing characters, who deceptively seem to be in possession of parts of his memory. These meetings are important driving forces in Mr Kayle’s journey to finding Andy, as well as finding answers to the origins of Day zero.
Fred insists that his book is not a commentary on society and politics, but there is a very definite question on how our identities are rooted and sense of belonging connected to where and how we position ourselves in the world and how without memory we have no roots. He speaks of how the most important idea in the book is that of balance; consciously avoiding the trap of living in extremes.
Landscapes take on a character of their own in sweeping scenes of forlorn uncertainty and at times dynamic hope; a journey through an imaginary world with familiar landmarks. Fred’s background in film and television ensures a writing style that is cinematic and provocative, to say the least.
Fred nonchalantly says that he formulated this intricate plot on his way home from work in the bubble of his motorcycle helmet. A very entertaining read, with familiar references slotted into twists and turns that ensure a fantastical ride through an unpredictable world!