This is an autobiographical novel about the coming of age for two brothers in war-torn England and post war South Africa. After surviving the Blitz of London the young boys are whisked away by their “blonde bombshell” mother to wait out the war in relative safely in the seaside town of Brighton. But here they are plunged into a different world where American GIs – on their way to war – have the pick of the English girls who have been left behind “guarding the home-fires”. As a result the boys become exposed to sex, violence and debauchery at a very tender age. Soon their mother is also caught up in the madness, leading to periods of neglect and heartbreak for the brothers who lean on each other for support.
They are 8 and 9 years old when they set out for the adventure of their lives on board the Windsor Castle, en route for the Union of South Africa in 1946. They are leaving gloomy and broken England behind for a new golden paradise. But they will soon discover that this paradise is flawed. In South Africa conflict exists between English and Afrikaans speaking South Africans – a relic of the Boer War - and a socially accepted color bar will soon become Apartheid of the worst kind. The South African soldier their mother has married turns out to be a psychopath, and before long they are regarding their predicament as a form of prison sentence.
What follows gives the reader deep insights into what it was like living in a far West Rand Afrikaaner stronghold during the decade after the war. The boys embark on a love-hate relationship with South Africa and its peoples, fuelled by their fear and mistrust of a cruel step-father and his alcoholic friends. As a defense mechanism they rely on a quirky sense of humor – developed earlier in Brighton - wherein they secretly ridicule their tormenters by mimicking and insulting them behind their backs, setting them up as figures of fun in the “caricature files of their sometimes dark minds”.
As young Englishmen they are forced to toughen up after prolonged bullying at the hands of Afrikaaner gangs, and as they gradually begin to comprehend the inherent evil in South Africa’s Apartheid regime they find themselves further alienated amongst the “Bittereinders” and their violent step-father. But in spite of everything Africa has a habit of getting under the skin, as they soon discover.
The story reaches a logical climax as many chickens come home to roost.