Chameleon Mountain follows the fortunes of several generations of the Baartman family from the mid-18th century into the 20th century. It is a unique family, formed from the genes of a Khoikhoi woman and a Dutch settler.
The characters are as intriguing as the Swartberg Mountains which foster them:
Ahad, the courageous shepherdess from whose loins came the first of the Baartmans;
Benji, 80-years later, a man of temper and passion who settles in Die Hel; and
Dan, his son, who leaves the valley to find his fortune, a journey which takes him to the new diamond fields in Kimberley, to the House of Assembly in Cape Town and finally into the Second Anglo-Boer War.
Interacting with them are a rich cast of supporting actors:
!Ka the brave Khoikhoi clan leader; Isaac, wise and selfless, the first of the Baartmans; Tess, pretty daughter of a klower; Caroline, beautiful and fey; and Josie, who has the wit and resolve to survive the British concentration camps.
And there are some characters better known in Southern African history; Cecil John Rhodes, the arch imperialist and manipulator; “Onze Jan” Hofmeyer, founder of the Afrikaner Bond; and General Koos de la Rey, perhaps the most revered of the Boer commanders.
Chameleon Mountain is not just a good Peter Cleary novel.
It is good by any standard of authorship. If there is a formula for writing entertaining, credible and interesting fact-based fiction, Cleary has found it and is increasingly perfecting its implementation. Few can master his skilful ability to weave history and geography into a compelling narrative that demands attention and transports one into the very time and place his story depicts. The book starts in 1754 in the sparsely inhabited Swartberg region.
It ends at the turn of the 20th century, following the Boer war. In between is an incredible jigsaw of natives, settlers, politics, generations, raids, loves, lusts, heartache, heroes, villains, greed, ambition, prejudice, battles and bravery – each piece fitting perfectly in place.
Once again the key to the novel is its credibility. It is true to the circumstances and history of each of the chapters. All the characters are believable; all the plots and subplots are sublime. Allow me to deviate: I saw Lance Klusener play cricket when he was still a schoolboy in eShowe, and Marius Jonker when he refereed his first low level rugby match. I predicted correctly at the time that both would become big names in their respective fields, and I was proved right. I now prophesy that Peter Cleary is going to become a major name in South African literary circles. Read Chameleon Mountain and you will understand my confidence.
Dave Savides – Zululand Observer