Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on October 15th, 2013
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Isaac Helger’s parents fled Lithuania for South Africa after the First World War, seeking refuge from the same horror that left his mother’s face permanently scarred. The family settles into a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Johannesburg, but Isaac’s mother can only dream of her son earning money to save the rest of her family from dangers on the horizon in Lithuania. Faced with this task, Isaac’s life becomes a series of encounters, partnerships, relationships and secrets aimed solely at success.
Kenneth Bonert’s setting is so original that it’s almost jarring at first. While the time period feels familiar, Isaac’s vibrantly blended community hums with the accents and slang of several different languages: Zulu, English, Yiddish and Afrikaans. It takes a few pages to get a grasp on the role each culture plays in Isaac’s life, but the plot of The Lion Seeker soon takes hold and moves relentlessly forward, pulling readers along for the ride.
“Their target house has a roof of overlapping tiles instead of sheet metal and bars against burglary at every window shaped into leaves and stems. Wealth needed bars: he hadn’t imagined this detail, nor that the bars could themselves be made into decorative symbols to signify the goods they protected.”
Bonert shines light on the bigotry that can become commonplace in a mixing bowl community, as minorities persecute one another in the struggle to get ahead; each one taking advantage of his privileges, often without realizing they exist. Though the ending feels rushed for such a well plotted book, The Lion Seeker is a deeply layered, original debut that won’t soon be forgotten.