The Blackridge House by Julia Martin – a powerful memoir of dementia
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The Blackridge House is a meditation on belonging, of the stories we tell of home and family and of the precarious footprint of life.

A quest is never what you expect it to be.

Elizabeth Madeline Martin spends her days in a retirement home in Cape Town, watching the pigeons and squirrels on the branch of a tree outside her window. Bedridden, her memory fading, she can recall her early childhood spent in a small wood-and-iron house in Blackridge on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg. Though she remembers the place in detail – dogs, a mango tree, a stream – she has no idea of where exactly it is. ‘My memory is full of blotches,’ she tells her daughter Julia, ‘like ink left about and knocked over.’

Julia resolves to find the Blackridge house: with her mother lonely and confused, would this, perhaps, bring some measure of closure?

A journey begins that traverses family history, forgotten documents, old photographs, and the maps that stake out a country’s troubled past – maps whose boundaries nature remains determined to resist. Kind strangers, willing to assist in the search, lead to unexpected discoveries of ancestors and wars and lullabies. Folded into this quest are the tender conversations between a daughter and a mother who does not have long to live.

Taken as one, The Blackridge House is a meditation on belonging, of the stories we tell of home and family, of the precarious footprint of life.

‘What a finely crafted text! The narrative keeps sharpening its lenses until one experiences what is hardest to grasp: everything is irrevocably interwoven – but miraculously so.’
– Antjie Krog

‘The Blackridge House is a quiet masterpiece – a page-turning story told with deep empathy and insight, in limpid prose.’
– Mark Gevisser

About the author

Julia Martin is a professor in the Department of English at the University of the Western Cape. Her travel memoir, A Millimetre of Dust: Visiting Ancestral Sites (Kwela Books, 2008) was longlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. Her most recent book, Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism, and Living in Places (Trinity University Press, 2014), was co-authored with the eminent North American poet and essayist Gary Snyder and is a collection of 30 years of their correspondence and interviews.

Categories Non-fiction South Africa

Tags Biography Jonathan Ball Publishers Julia Martin Memoir New books New releases The Blackridge House

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