Martha Quest, the first book in the Children of Violence series, covers the years 1934 to 1938. The central character of the novel, Martha Quest, experiences an adolescence of disquiet, troubled by the turbulence of a world recently rocked by one world war and fast approaching a second. She is an intelligent observer of a world that seems to have gone awry. She feels at odds both with the awesome history of human beings acting in large collectives and with the reality of their petty pursuits in smaller social arenas.
From the time that Martha Quest notices discrepancies between the words people speak and their behaviors, she begins to feel displaced and unhappy. To allay despair, Martha turns to literature for ideas and spiritual support, usually borrowing books from two young Jewish intellectuals living in town. As she uses great books to structure her theory of the world, she is compelled to face the grim realities of her own life:She was adolescent, and therefore bound to be unhappy; British and therefore uneasy and defensive; in the fourth decade of the twentieth century, and therefore inescapably beset with problems of race and class; female, and obliged to repudiate the shackled women of the past.
Hoping to escape her current misery and dismal prospect for her future, fifteen-year-old Martha decides to leave her provincial rural community and live in the nearby fictional city, Zambesia, South Africa.
(The entire section is 523 words.)