Read of the Week

The Seed Thief

Jacqui L’ Ange

Umuzi

Review: Brian Joss

Magdalena “Maddy” Bellani is a botanist working at Kirstenbosch and is fascinated by the Cape’s fynbos.

She was born in Brazil and lived on different continents, in the care of two aunts, before settling in South Africa. But she doesn’t seem to have roots anywhere.

And she is about to dump her long-time partner, Nico.

So when her boss, Kirk, aka Captain Kirk, asks her to go to Salvador to find a tiny star-shaped seed, the extremely rare Newbouldia mundii, for safekeeping in the seed bank, the idea is appealing.

The seed apparently has cancer-fighting properties and is on the brink of extinction.

Maddy hasn’t been back to Brazil for years, where her estranged father lives, and is a bit reluctant to go, as she has lots of unresolved issues with him, among them the death of her artist mother, who was reportedly killed by lightning.

However, Maddy sets off to Salvador to find the tree in a remote part of the country.

In Brazil she is seduced by Salvador, the people, the colours and the smells.

She becomes immersed in Candomblé, an African-Brazilian spiritual community whose deities each have a different role to play in the lives of its members who are reputed to guard the sacred seed, which was brought to Brazil from West Africa by slaves.

She is also seduced by Zé, who smells of “pine, pepper and cardamom”, the keeper of the garden, a place of wonder, exotic plants and mystery.

And if she hopes to find the seeds she has to gain the trust of the Candomblé adherents. Which is not an easy task.

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is also on the trail of the sacred seed, though not for reasons of philanthropy.

Captain Kirk also has an ulterior motive. So who wins the race to get the seeds? Does Maddy mend bridges with her estranged father? Does she find a place to belong to?

L’Ange has an elegant style of writing and the tension builds up with every sentence. You can feel the pulsating rhythms of the Candomblé drums, feel the heat of the dancers’ bodies and smell the verdant plant life and be blinded by the colours she so vividly describes.

The characters live and breathe and bleed.

Although it’s a complex story with many threads, it will keep you engrossed from page 1.

L’ Ange has made a grand entrance with her debut novel and I can’t wait for the next one. The Seed Thief will steal your heart.