Laurens van der Post

Presented by Janet Samber to the Calgary Women’s Literary Club

November 8, 2020

The writings of Laurens van der Post, both fact and fiction, are firmly rooted in his background, his cultural heritage, and his life experiences. His body of work, consisting of 26 books, as well as many articles and television series, thoughtfully explores issues such as race relations, the persecution of indigenous peoples, and the tragedy of apartheid.

Adventurer, explorer, farmer, author, soldier, prisoner of war, advisor to politicians and to royalty, follower of Jungian teachings, champion of indigenous peoples and advocate for multiracial integration in Africa -all these and more are descriptors that could be used to describe this complex and charismatic South African.  Born on December 13, 1906 his life was lived during a time of great change for Africa, and for the entire world. Van de Post served in World War II, spending from 1942 until the end of the war incarcerated in a brutal Japanese prisoner of war camp. His experiences there resulted in the novel The Seed and the Sower, which is remarkable for its compassion and sense of forgiveness towards his Japanese jailers despite the torture and brutality experienced at their hands.

Often in van der Post’s books the young hero closely resembles the author at that age. Two examples are A Story Like the Wind and it’s sequel A Far Off Place. They also draw on van der Post’s deep sense of being rooted in Africa and on his deep feelings for the San, or Bushman people.

His non-fiction books such as Venture to the Interior, The Lost World of the Kalahari, The Heart of the Hunter and A Mantis Carol bring to light the plight of the San people. Celebrating the many talents of people in this age-old culture: their art, their myths, their skill as hunters, and their philosophy of life, van der Post has also brought to the world’s attention their desperate plight in the modern world.

Van der Post provided input to the British government on African conditions as the British Empire morphed into the British Commonwealth. He was awarded a CBE and a knighthood for his contributions. Van der Post continued his prolific output filled with reflective passages and poetic descriptions that give the reader a sense of the world until his death on December 6, 1996.