Book Review: Dancing on Mara Dust

Usually I restrict my reviews and notices to books about language and linguistics, but in this case it’s a book by a regular contributor to the Wordorigins discussion forum, Vivien Smith, a.k.a. ElizaD. The book is Dancing on Mara Dust: The True Story of a South African Farm.

Written with her mother, Nancy Mathews, the book is the story of Ms. Mathews and her parents and their life in the Transvaal in the early part of the 20th century. Written in a straightforward, matter-of-fact style, the book tells a tale of the travails and the joys of a hardscrabble family life. It evokes a time and place that is no more and is populated with a string of interesting characters who duck in and out of the family’s life (including a cameo appearance by Prince Edward, later King Edward VIII, who does not come off too well in the family’s estimation).

The book is not completely without linguistic interest. It is peppered with good South African words like mielies (maize), koppie (hill), and kraal (corral), as well as place names like Soutpansberg (salt-pan mountain).

Unfortunately, I’m not sure the book is readily available (at least not yet) in the United States. It can be found at and other sources in the UK.

Paperback, 208 pages, Vivien Clear Publishing (Oct 2006), ISBN 0955267102, £10.99.

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