My friend Vivien Smith has sent me a copy of the book her mother, Nancy Mathews, wrote about her South African childhood, called Dancing on Mara Dust (Vivien wrote a concluding chapter bringing the story up to date). As the jacket copy says, “The book tells of lifestyles that have disappeared, of people and places who are but shadowy memories, interspersed with unique observations of animal life and with snapshots of royalty and famous names from long ago.” Mrs. Mathews grew up in the 1920s and ’30s on a farm in the sparsely settled north of the Transvaal, near the Soutpansberg (‘salt-pan mountain’), and the work and ingenuity necessary to make a go of it there are amazing to someone who grew up decades later in easier circumstances. I enjoyed the loving descriptions of the land and its inhabitants, both human and animal (there’s a splendid description of fish eagles on page 140), but of course I particularly appreciate the use of language: “zithering” is exactly right for the sound of cicadas, but it would never have occurred to me. And I’ve learned some new words, like inspan for ‘to yoke, harness’ (apparently only South African). To add to my pleasure, there are bits of Northern Sotho/Sepedi scattered through the book (and a helpful glossary in the front). I highly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in South Africa, growing up on farms, or just a good (if sometimes very sad) story.