South African born-and-raised Hollywood screenwriter Helena Kriel is researching the ancient text of the Kama Sutra for a movie she’s writing. At the same time, she is travelling to India to meet with sages and find answers to the universal challenges of sex and love. While searching for love in her doomed relationships, little does
she know she will find her answers in caring for her dying brother, Evan, in South Africa.
Set in the mid-1990s, South Africa is just emerging from the darkness of apartheid and bursting with vibrant chaos. The story zooms in on an intense year in the narrator’s life. It centres around the lively and eccentric South African Kriel family: Maya, the combative but inspired mother; Lexi, the sister recently returned from living in a temple in India; Ross, the younger brother diving with sharks; and Helena, the narrator, herself on a journey to understand love and death. At the heart of the story is Evan, her terminally ill 30-year-old gay brother, who has been keeping his illness a shameful secret. Conscious, sensitive, terrified and trying to hang onto sanity as his world changes, Evan becomes paralysed then finally goes blind as death draws ever closer. But it is Evan who leads the family through the fire.
In living through her brother’s fight to stay alive, the narrator finds herself at the heart of a savage story, one she would not have chosen. How could she know when she set out to India to find ancient solutions to the modern problems of our age that her brother’s approaching death would be her greatest teacher? How could she imagine that dying brings everything to life?
The Year Of Facing Fire is an astoundingly written memoir by one of South Africa’s finest writers. It traverses universal themes including love, death and sex, and finds value in the ordinary and great beauty in the uncertain.
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