The Blackridge House - A Memoir (Paperback)


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.


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Product Description

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.

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I first fell in love with Julia Martin's writing while reading her travel memoir, A Millimetre if Dust, and The Blackridge House doesn't disappoint. Her observations – both of nature in all its forms, and of the fragility of all human interaction – are acutely felt and beautifully expressed. This deeply personal quest – to find the childhood home that has become lost in her elderly mother's mind, due to dementia – becomes a universal quest anyone can relate to. It unfolds slowly, steadily. I wanted it to last forever. Historical issues of colonialism, land, dispossession (and a longing to belong) made me curious to find out even more about that lush sub-tropical region of South Africa. I loved the sometimes circular conversations between Elizabeth (whose mind meanders freely through the past), Julia, her wryly patient daughter and Elizabeth's grandchildren – to me, they felt like delicate poems that grew from the love these four people felt for each other. Buy it – you won't be disappointed. And it has one of the best last lines I've read in a long time.




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