The Smell of Apples, Paperback
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Marnus is terrified he will not fulfil the expectations of his elite Afrikaner family who are certain of their superiority.

But when Mr Smith arrives, things start to change, affecting Marnus's values and everything around him that he he holds dear. Mark Behr's debut novel and the recipient of numerous awards including South Africa's biggest literary prize, the M-Net Award, as well as the Eugene Maris Prize and the CAN Literary Award.

In the UK the book was shortlisted for the Steinbeck Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize, and received the Betty Trask Award.

In the USA the novel won the Art Seidenbaum Award from the Los Angeles Times.




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Review by

This novel covers a relatively short time-span in the last weeks of 1973, and is told by Marcus the 11 year old son of a senior South African army officer. His family are Afrikaners - very much part of the ruling elite - and totally committed to the concept of apartheid, and convinced of their own superiority over other peoples. When a visitor from abroad enters their home things begin to seem different, Marcus begins to become aware of apartheid's twisted logic, and nothing will ever be the same for him. This is a very subtle depiction of a child's introduction to hypocracy, and a piercing indictment of the Afrikaner mentality which underlined the creation of the racist state. The book won the Eugene Marais Prize from the South African Academy of Arts and Science, and it also won the CNA Literary Debut Award; both awards are well deserved.

Review by

Set in South Africa in the mid 1970s, and narrated by Marnus Erasmus, the eleven year old son of the well connected and politically influential Afrikaner General Erasmus and his now retired opera singer wife Leonora, the story gives real insight into how one’s background and upbringing facilitate firmly held ideals and beliefs.The Erasmus family plays host to a Mr Smith, the alias given to a visiting undercover Chilean General who sympathises with the Afrikaners’ views. Through their interaction with Mr Smith, with their attitude toward their Coloured servants and their behaviour toward the Blacks, we get a very good impression of the Afrikaners’ proud belief in their own superiority; however shocking such views may seem today. But the beauty of the story is in the telling through the eyes of the eleven year old Marnus. Behr convincingly conveys the activities, expressions and innocence of youth, despite the perverted indoctrinated beliefs. His friendship with is class mate Frikkie, something of a bully and problem child at school; and his spiteful relationship with his older sister Ilse are well portrayed. Particularly endearing is the relationship he enjoys with his parents and his undoubted love and respect for them; a love than can even overcome the horrifying discovery Manus makes towards the end involving his father. Interspersed with the current narrative is an ongoing account from the twenty four year old lieutenant Manus as he serves on the war front.A beautifully written and revealing account, Behr succeeds in presenting an appealing view of a year in a family’s life despite their horrifying attitudes and beliefs.

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