Giles Foden

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Foden, Giles

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


The time is November 1899 through February 1900; the place is Ladysmith, a small railroad town in British Natal near its border with the Boer Republics. The Boers have surprised the world with an initial series of Samson-and-Goliath victories over the British army and have now laid siege to Ladysmith. As they shell the town from surrounding hills, people die, disease is rampant, structures collapse, starvation looms, and yet the British muddle through with an improvised cricket match whenever possible.

The setting of this novel is historically accurate, and a number of historical figures appear as characters; for example, the Boers arrest a young reporter named Winston Churchill as he struggles to reach the besieged town, and an Indian lawyer-turned-medical volunteer named Mohandas K. Gandhi becomes more and more committed to his philosophy of active nonviolence.

The core of the novel is a fictionalized version of a love story that the author found in the letters of his great-grandfather, who was a British soldier at Ladysmith. Bella, the Irish hotelkeeper’s daughter, falls in love, first, with a British soldier; and later with a Portuguese barber, thus defying convention and rebelling against her father. The unlikely couple escapes in a balloon.

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