Meg Vandermerwe’s South African Mermaid Tale Set to Mesmerise Readers
07 May 2019
On Tuesday, 23 April 2019, PEN SA member Meg Vandermerwe’s latest novel, The Woman of the Stone Sea, was launched at the Book Lounge. Vandermerwe discussed her novel with Henrietta Rose-Innes, touching on ideas around mythology and politics. The central characters in the novel are a West Coast fisherman, named Hendrik, and a Xhosa mermaid.
Vandermerwe explained that The Woman of the Stone Sea is rooted in two mermaid myths from South Africa, one from the Karoo region and the other from the Transkei. These two completely different cultures share the same mythology, having the mythic figure of the mermaid in common. Hendrik and the mermaid are representations of these two cultures coming together, allowing for an unconventional love story. The author admitted to purposefully blurring the line between real and unreal, by incorporating both traditional African belief systems and the Western perceptions of psychology in the novel, allowing them to coexist.
Rose-Innes commented on how the mermaid is a transitional figure, representing both land and sea. She said, “the myth resonates with the hybrid nation that we are in South Africa”. As a response to a question on hybridity in voice, Vandermerwe said, “it’s all about getting the right words in the right spaces” and further mentioned that it was important to keep the melody of Afrikaans in the English translation. The protagonist Hendrick’s voice is a “hybrid of Afrikaans tone being translated into English”.
Vandermerwe emphasised the importance of doing research in portraying people as accurately as possible and concluded the evening by saying that this is her most hopeful and humorous book.