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The Standing Rabbit

The Covenant by James Michener

The Covenant by James Michener

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The Covenant by James Michener is a 873-page hardcover published in 1980 by Random House New York, and is a stated limited first edition.  The dust jacket has numerous tears and creasing along the edges.  Inside, the spine is bumped and the upper edges are foxing.  Otherwise, the inside is pristine, with clean crisp pages and solid binding.  The condition is good. 

Book Summary

The main setting of this extraordinary novel is the stunning landscape of South Africa, but vivid episodes also take place in Indonesia, France, Holland and England.  The dramatic presentation of actual and fictional characters in a background of historical events is a narrative technique of which Mr. Michener has long been the acknowledged master--and never more powerfully than here.

The story begins 15,000 years ago with a clan of small brown people--the San, later called "Bushmen"--who are facing a crisis.  A beautiful lake, long the center of their lives, is drying up, and they must move across a hostile African desert to seek better conditions.  The hardships overcome by this intrepid band--hunters, wanderers, artists--are minor compared with what will eventually confront those who come after them.  Some of these are next shown in the 15th century toiling in the gold mines that enrich the black empire of Zimbabwe.  They are overseen by Nxumalo, who has achieved power and fortune in that great city and who is an ancestor of one of the three principal families in this book.

The first European settlement in South Africa is a Dutch outpost established in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope--a dangerous headland usually by-passed by ships sailing to and from the Far East.  What begins there, several decades after the first English colonies in North America, parallels in many ways the growth of the United States, but with significant differences.

In the early 19th century English settlers arrive in increasing numbers, including the Saltwoods of Salisbury, who now share the stage.  It is a century of violent conflict; white against black, black against black, Dutch against English; the death and destruction on all sides is are hideous.  The growing hostility to English rule finally erupts in the devastating Boer War (1899-1902).

The Covenant is a major novel about people, real and imaginary, caught up in the march of world history--a story of adventure and heroism, love and loyalty, cruelty and betrayal.  Though not without comic elements, it portrays the tragic results of wrong decisions made by fundamentally decent people in the serene belief that they are right.

ISBN:  0-394-51400-9 (limited ed.)

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