Inspired by real events, two South African stories reveal the nation's violent colonial legacy: At the height of the second Boer War in 1901, Sarah van der Watt and her young son are forced from their home on Mulberry Farm and into to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp—the same grounds where, In 2014, 16-year-old Willem's Ma and her boyfriend force Willem to attend the New Dawn Safari Training Camp, where they make "men" out of boys.
Of the many different emotions a novel can inspire in its readers, anger is rarely one of them, but I’d challenge anyone to come away from You Will Be Safe Here in a state of calm. It tells a story so powerful and upsetting that it’s a useful reminder of how fiction can illuminate the indignities visited upon those the world has mistreated and then forgotten ... Where many novels run out of steam as they approach the end, You Will Be Safe Here grows more engaging with each chapter ... This is a penetrating study of politics and history, but it’s also about cruelty, selfishness and destiny ... You Will Be Safe Here is a very fine novel ... It’s the work of someone who understands his subject and employs calm, efficient prose to leave the reader feeling stunned by the cruelty and barbarism human beings routinely show each other.
...a polished and harrowing debut novel ... These distinct narratives are equally convincing. Both have been extensively researched....yet that learning is worn lightly, and Barr shifts between two very different tones with a light touch, maintaining a subtle emotional intelligence throughout. There are moments of almost shocking drollery, too...Meanwhile, the harsh poetry of the land anchors the text, its red earth stretching out beneath starlit stillness, unchanging from generation to generation ... Homophobic violence overshadows the brutal closing section of You Will Be Safe Here but it’s the connections between then and now that make it so devastating ... By its end, so many instinctive responses will have been upturned that the reader will be left with just two certainties: that the circularity of man’s cruelty to his fellow human beings is endless, and that only kindness is stronger.
The twin narratives stand side by side as almost independent novels, though the connection between them has been subtly engineered. ... It’s quite a leap from North Lanarkshire to South Africa in the early 20th century; but in a continuation of the style developed through his memoir, Barr’s first novel is distinguished by its compassion, its wisdom and its remarkable sense of poetry.