Travels with My Father – An Autobiographical Novel by Karen Jennings
28 Sep 2016
This novel is a moving account of dealing with grief. Written in the first person, a daughter mourns her father. She unexpectedly falls in love six months after her father’s death, but everyday life is still full of memories, places and people he knew.
A month later the big house is for sale. I make a list of everything that must be kept. I want to avoid another misunderstanding or argument. The list is long. My mother and I fight again. We begrudge one another personal memories and want ours only. We have been living too long inside one another’s grief. My father is for each of us, ours alone.
As part of the grieving process her father becomes almost more alive than when he was still alive. She finds out that his quiet life and early nights were caused by a heredity illness. At the memorial service, he didn’t want, he is fondly remembered by former pupils from the school. Even though he said after retiring: ‘That he would never go back to “that place”.’
I looked at the faces of these strangers, read the letters and emails that followed the service, and wondered about my father – a man they remembered as something gigantic. Why didn’t I know this man that they spoke of?
Traveling in her father’s footsteps takes the daughter to many places, often through looking at the pictures he took, but other places she has actually visited. They range from the embalmed corpse of Lenin in Moscow, her father was fascinated by dictators, the cathedral in Mondsee Austria, featured in the film The Sound of Music, her father was a rather stern Captain Von Trapp in the school production, and to Salisbury in England. ‘Go sightseeing,’ her father tells her when she phones him. ‘There is a wonderful place nearby called Old Sarum.’
How silly this seems now, the daydream of an eighteen-year-old girl, fresh from her independence in England, believing she will frequent pubs with her father on her return home – a man who had never given any sign of being interested in going to a pub. It was a foolish thought, and of course we did not ever go. But on that night, sitting on my parents’ bed, he tells me to pause the movie which we have long since stopped watching and bring him his Italy photo album.
Many scenes are set in Plumstead, a suburb of Cape Town, where the father lived most of his life. Beautifully written snippets of the history in and around Cape Town are included in the book. The relationships and divisions between members of a family that does not wear its heart on its sleeve, and some of whom are real eccentrics, are sensitively recorded. It all adds to an intricate picture of a changing South African society.
We are all guilty of it: dismantling the past, trying to create something new, something we consider to be an improvement. Even in this book are memories I have created from the rubble of others.
Travels with My Father is a beautifully written autobiographical novel. Seen through the eyes of a young woman, daughter and writer, it is a frank, yet delicate and moving, account of her relationship with her father and her surroundings. The author has the last word:
The truth is that I had a difficult relationship with my father. Look at photos of the two of us. We are identical. Our personalities match each other’s. We fought because we were the same in many ways.
Travels with My Father – An Autobiographical Novel will be published on 3 November, the birthday of the father in the title.
About the author
Karen Jennings was born in Cape Town in 1982. She holds Master’s degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town, and a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Karen’s stories and poetry have been published in journals across the globe, in countries as diverse as Nigeria, Australia and Greece, and on several websites including BOTSOTSO, the Commonwealth Foundation and Itch. Her short story “Andries Tatane” received an hounorable mention in a competition organised by Eyelands in Greece. You can also read one of Karen’s latest stories Making Challah in the Kalahari Review.
In 2010 her short story “From Dark” won the Africa Region prize in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. “Mia and the Shark” won the English section of the Maskew Miller Longman short story competition in 2009 and is now studied in schools. Finding Soutbek was her first novel. Read more about Jennings at Holland Park Press.
Date of Publication: 3 November 2016
Publisher: Holland Park Press