Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 772
Martin Mynhardt’s ties to his family farm in the Eastern Cape of Good Hope could form a barrier to the acquisitive desires of a land-hungry company that wants to own and control the region outright. Yet Martin is not the sort of person to sentimentalize his roots or to care much about the effect of the farm’s loss on family members and their black retainers.
There are, however, two people in Martin’s world whom he does actually care for—far more than he cares for his emotionally estranged wife, Elise, or his angry, disillusioned son, Louis: namely, his old childhood friend and companion, the political revolutionary Bernard, and his lovely wife—and Martin’s last lover—Bea, an Italian expatriate and political activist who came to South Africa at a young age. Martin’s existential dilemma is whether to help his old friends by hiding important writings that Bernard pleads with Martin to take with him, thereby putting Martin’s life in mortal danger as an enemy of the South African state, or to sell out his friends and resume some semblance of his previous politically uninvolved life. Martin then is faced with the hardest of choices: Should he once again turn traitor to Bernard—since Martin already betrayed Bernard by falling in love with Bea—and destroy everything Bernard had attempted to do with his life by turning state’s evidence, or should he invite certain death by being seen as Bernard and Bea’s accomplice in treason against the state?
Thus, this novel is about the loyalties of the heart, things people ignore only at their peril: Martin’s long-standing marriage to Elise, interrupted over the years by various infidelities; his emotional ties to and sense of responsibility for his son Louis, a soldier in South Africa’s losing fight against Angola, with whom he has not fostered a good father-son relationship; Bernard’s love for Bea that is coupled with his inability to put her before his own powerful political aspirations; Bea’s deep love for her husband, set alongside her physical desire for Martin’s lovemaking sessions with her; and Martin’s loyalty to his own boyhood and the family and farm that were at its center, versus the need for business allies who may come in handy in the future. In Rumours of Rain, love is a choice and is juxtaposed with decisions that betray it.
All of Martin’s allegiances are tested by events he never saw coming. For instance, as South Africa’s once seemingly unified, apparently strong facade develops cracks through participation in border wars and skirmishes, such as the conflict with Angola, young men like Louis are drafted into hellish and ill-conceived conflicts of attrition. Martin, wanting very much to see his “white tribe” winning, fails to be able to envision the failure of that enterprise, something of which Louis could apprise him, if he would only ask, for Louis has participated in war, unlike his father and other Afrikaners who cheer on the troops from their own safe and secure vantage point far from the front lines.
Linked in Martin’s mind with Bernard’s final day in court, before he is taken away by the thugs who run South Africa, is the death of his father, who though learned never found ways to leave behind his distorted Afrikaner concept of the world; readers readily see that same stubborn determination in Martin to be true to the traditional Afrikaner ways of thinking and doing. Yet Martin, unlike his father, who lived when apartheid was at its peak, cannot hang on to the past though he tries, just as he literally cannot hang onto his family’s farm. Historical forces now dictate that he open his closed mind to a new world order, one that has engulfed his nation, and yet he never really does.
Bernard, however, is the true cycle-breaker of the piece—the true rebel, passionate and self-denying in his search for a transformed, reconfigured South Africa where all people can be free. He is the one at novel’s end who is the agent of political change—-that “rain” from the book’s title that will fall hard and fast on this spiritually and morally drought-stricken place, a stream of destruction that brings new life. Yet Martin, almost despite himself, ends up becoming one with the redemptive flood of political action advocated by Bernard and Bea, and he gives up his life to the higher cause they espouse. Readers do see him as redeemed from what had been a bigoted, sorry, shallow, selfish, and morally diminished existence.
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