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Revisiting South Africa

Book Title: North Facing

Author: Tony Peake

Genre: South African history

Centred around atonement, homosexuality, repressive politics, racism, and cultural dislocation – the novel revisits a seminal boyhood with unforeseen sinister consequences and a particular impulsive act of bravado. Peake takes us back to the intense week in October 1962, following the story of a sixty-year-old man reliving the events exploding from the Cuban missile crisis in his schooling career.

The protagonist analysis: Paul Harvey (best identified with)

Leaving their legacy in the United Kingdom behind, the Harvey’s relocated to Pretoria, South Africa. Paul Harvey – proud of his English heritage – set forth into the world of an all-boys boarding school. His initial attitude to the new experience was hopeful, but as his character progressed, he began noticing conflictions with his heritage and that of his peers.

For a twelve-year-old boy, comprehending cultural differences is not the easiest task. He often felt excluded and bullied by the other boys. His inability to connect led him into believing the problem lies within himself – waves of insecurities flushed his innocent mind.

In efforts to escape atrocities of The Cold War, the Harveys misinterpreted the jarring apartheid and political tension present in 1960s South Africa.

As a result of peer pressure, Paul was in desperate search of approval from the class captain – Andre Du Toit. The predominant concept of oppression remained rife throughout the book – either in the form of school bullying, nuclear wars, sexuality, or political distress.

Paul became extremely fixated on becoming popular, that he ignored the magnitude of the world’s abominations – until he grew under the mastery of his teacher.

Juxtaposed to Andre and fellow classmates, Paul was incredibly innocent. His thinking and actions were considerably from the heart and pure – he had no initial intent of hurting another. When viewing Paul under a collective, he stands out in terms of his ethnicity and as well as his immaturity.

Lessons learned

I have picked up on various lessons throughout unpacking this understated read. One notable takeaway was the discernment of the past in preparation for the future. The slight referral of child psychology was waved in progressing Pauls character – the readers perception of reconnecting with that “child innocence” and falling in love with the world, was an important lesson as well.

The beginning of the novel set a moral tone – as Paul was a mere child in the eye of an international storm, whereas towards the end, when Paul warped into an older man, his attachment to his past entangled him in a state of obstruction.

Aspect best enjoyed

The bonding of Andre and Paul was a heart-warming scene of acceptance, and a child’s victory in life. I enjoyed reading the Harvey family come together and find union in times of dismay – it brought comfort in such an atrocious-centred book.


In brevity, Paul made the reader blush in both awe and embarrassment of his childhood. The novel was a much-needed reality check for society – in that our decisions directly impact the wellbeing of our youth. Peake’s conclusion humbled and awakened the reader, adding to a satisfactory closure of events.

The never-ending cycle of life was kept constant throughout the book – in the form of a growing twelve-year-old boy to a sixty-year-old man, numerous perspectives illuminated the theme of unity.


Peake’s compelling and haunting novel was close to perfection. A tumultuous turn of events juxtaposed to a sense of calamity reassured the reader of an addictive read. Amidst the close perfection, I would have appreciated a further empathetic farewell – not only to his past but to his loved ones as well.


I would highly recommend “North Facing” to practically all segments of society. Its versatility and compelling story attracts various audiences. It is a must read.

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