Pregnant with her first child, Betsy Klein is summoned from her home in the United States to her father's hospital bed in South Africa. Harold Klein is sensual, irascible, a passionately committed doctor, and a complex husband and father. As Betsy sits and waits for him to stir from his coma, she is compelled to imagine his life.
Fatherless and skinny, Harold Klein had to struggle to assert himself in his family, and, later, to become a doctor and to win the respect of his Boer patients. We first meet him as a young man on a formative, sexually charged excursion with his friends on the Touw, a river to which he often returns. That is where he later teaches his little daughter to row, and finally, where he makes his last metaphoric passage.
The Rowing Lesson is an utterly convincing and vivid portrait of a consciousness and a life, shot through with a daughter's fierce empathy and exasperation. By the heartbreaking end of the novel, it seems inconceivable that we will not meet Harold Klein directly, that he will never wake up, so powerfully has he been brought to life.
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