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Nature Lessons: A Novel

About the Book

Nature Lessons: A Novel

As fearless as J.M. Coetzee, as compelling as Nadine Gordimer, as engrossing as Bryce Courtney, Lynette Brasfield in her debut novel, Nature Lessons, offers readers an accessible window into two equally tumultuous landscapes: South African society and mental illness in the family. Kate Jensen's identity is shaped by a childhood that resonates with pain and promise, much like the country in which it takes place.

Dysfunctional relationships are plentiful in contemporary literature, but the impact of mental illness on the fragile bonds of family is not commonly examined in fictional form. In Nature Lessons, Lynette Brasfield explores this territory in a mother-daughter story that is thoughtful, candid, and always engaging, as a young girl finds herself caught in the quagmire of her mother's delusions, which may be rooted in reality. Renamed Kate Jensen after her father's sudden death and displaced from Johannesburg to Durban, Kate as a child—and later as a grown woman—grapples with issues of identity, social consciousness, and personal responsibility in her relationships with friends, potential life partners, and peers, both black and white.

Nature Lessons weaves back and forth between 1960s apartheid South Africa and post-apartheid 1995, and Brasfield deftly maneuvers between the changing politics of a racially divided country and the personal story of a daughter struggling to make her way in a puzzling world. As the story unfolds, Nature Lessons provides glimpses into a spectrum of racial perspectives over time. But it is Kate's relationship with her mother that embodies the heart of this novel: Violet Jensen is an intriguing, subtly drawn character who illustrates the complexity of mental illness and the shadowy line between sanity and insanity. Kate's denial, guilt, and then acceptance of her mother's condition and her own childhood in a troubled country serve to shape her adult identity.

Though its subject matter can be searing, Nature Lessons is ultimately a hopeful story, laced with wry humor, about the enduring nature of family bonds even under the most difficult of circumstances.

Nature Lessons: A Novel
by Lynette Brasfield

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2003
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 031231034X
  • ISBN-13: 9780312310349