Moffie, by Andre Carl van der Merwe. Europa Editions, 368 pages, $15 paper.
by Richard Labonte
Young Nicholas Van der Swart, already scorned by his strict Afrikaans father as a moffie – a gay sissy – is an unhappy conscript into South Africa’s National Defence Force in the 1970s. Apartheid still rules, homosexuality is deemed abhorrent by both church and state and the segregated nation is fighting a dirty guerilla war along its border with Angola – not the best of worlds for a sensitive young man. Despite brutal military harassment and the suicide of a fellow conscript broken by grueling boot-camp training, Nick forges close friendships with three other boys, and finds first romance with one, while defying every effort by one particular officer to humiliate him. Flashbacks to the narrator’s boyhood reveal some good times, particularly before Nick’s beloved and protective older brother dies tragically. For the most part, the military bullying is foreshadowed by schoolyard humiliations and a father’s intolerance. But by story’s end, this atmospheric fact-based fiction tells the gracious story of a boy growing into a man and of a moffie triumphing over internal fear and external prejudice.