ALTHOUGH I grew up in Worcester, a small South African town in the shadow of the Brandwacht mountains, that wasn't the real me. The real me was best friends with Petunia, the North American goose who left her gooseprints in deep snow; Scuffy, the tugboat, who bumped up against logs and loggers as he floated down an East Coast river; and Madeleine, the little girl who lived right near the amazing Eiffel Tower. The South African skies, the mountains, the endless varieties of indigenous plants - all these things were intensely present in my life as a child and also entirely absent from the world of my imagination, where I lived.
Most of the children I went to school with were Afrikaans, had blonde hair and shockingly blue eyes. I was Jewish, my black hair curled in every direction and my nose was long. It added another layer of not belonging. And then there was apartheid, which was invented and established while I was growing up. I knew it was wrong, my parents knew it was wrong, but that's where we lived, that's where we had a house with a brass plaque on the front wall which read - Dr. G.B. Landsman, M.B.Ch.B., M.R.C.P. (Edin.) That's where we had loquat trees, and guava trees, a silver tree and a kumquat tree. I was always passionate about leaving. When I was very young, I believed London, Paris and New York were on the other side of the Brandwacht mountains because that's where I wanted them to be. I got the idea of leaving from my mother, who took me to the public library on hot afternoons. The idea of staying came from my father, whose plaque remained affixed to the wall in front of the house until the day he died.
I switched hemispheres when I was 21. I had just finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Cape Town. I wanted to see London and Paris and New York, finally. New York stole my soul. It was everything South Africa was not. There was no Nature to miss in the tangle of buildings and the experience of a thousand cultures rubbing up against each other. I went to Columbia University and graduated with an M.F.A. in screenwriting and directing. My writing career started with the writing of screenplays, under the eye of the late Frank Daniel, the best teacher I have ever had. That's where I began to think of writing about South Africa, the place I never read about as a child.
A short story I wrote which was published in the American Poetry Review became the prologue to my first novel, The Devil's Chimney. I then went on to adapt the novel for the screen, as well as teach writing myself. I also published essays, reviews and interviews and wrote a second novel, The Rowing Lesson, once again learning that some portion of my heart will always beat in that opposite hemisphere, in the shadow of the Brandwacht mountains, not far from the house with the loquat trees. Some part of me stayed down there.
I belong where I am not.
- Anne Landsman