Frankie and Stankie, Barbara Trapido


March 2023

I seem to like each Barbara Trapido I read better than the last, and I’m not sure if that’s simply because I prefer it or because I’m falling more deeply in love with her writing.

Frankie and Stankie is the story of two sisters growing up in post-war South Africa, with a Dutch father and German Jewish mother, lucky to have escaped Europe and Hitler but rare liberal voices as South Africa plunges towards repression and apartheid. The sisters, Dina and Lisa, are smart and playful and ambitious for life experience, despite the awful drudgery of their very conservative schooling. Their backdrop is a country forging the identity it would have once I became aware of it, forty to fifty years later - the Afrikaaners won political power after the Second World War and the English were sidelined. White Afrikaaners were promoted and encouraged to move to urban areas and take skilled jobs; people of colour were subjected to more and more petty, degrading, racist and humiliating rules and regulations, rubbing away at their personhood, their right to exist in that time and space and situation, as much as their right to work or live or marry or use a certain shop or bus or toilet.

I forgot while reading this that Trapido’s husband, Stanley, was a leading South African historian, who came to the UK in self-imposed exile and lectured at Oxford - giving her the material for Brother Jack and its offspring. But as soon as I remembered it of course made perfect sense. Trapido is perfectly placed to fictionalise the story of South Africa, and bring it to a wide audience, and we get an incisive account of how twentieth century South Africa came to be, through the coming of age story of a few lovable curious innocents. It’s classic Trapido: the terrible truth wrapped up in whimsical party clothes, delivered in devastating detail. Overall, unmissable.

It was first published in 2003 so Barbara must have been able to work on it with Stanley, before he had a few years of poor health and died at 78, in 2008.

I bought my copy from World of Books. I’m heading back there now to see which Trapido’s are left for me to read