“A tense, expansive family yarn unfolding against the backdrop of violent South African apartheid”
Told across five decades, in the voices of all four main characters, Bloodlines paints on canvases large and small, from the struggle against apartheid to the secrets and brutalities that tear apart a family. Equal parts geopolitical thriller and one man’s search for truth, it explores the damage inflicted by history, and the havoc wrought by lies.
From the age of seven, when he began his new life in Boston, Steven Green believed he was the son of a dead mother — a woman who had sacrificed her life in the fight to end apartheid. His father refused to talk about their past in South Africa. Eventually, Steven stopped yearning for answers. He made peace with his father’s silence and moved on to build a career and a family of his own. At age 48, after losing his father to cancer, Steven gained knowledge of a staggering fact. The mother he had spent his childhood mourning was very much alive and very different from the brave, selfless woman he had imagined.
In Bloodlines, author Neville Frankel unfolds the complicated story of Michaela Davidson Green (a.k.a. Grace Michaels) — a courageous, defiant, confounding woman. As Steven learns, his mother risked her life not only for the cause of justice and equality for all South Africans, but also for the love of one black man. Following her principles and her passion, Michaela suffered terrible consequences and faced agonizing choices, especially the decision to stay in South Africa as a fugitive and forfeit her relationship with her son.
Grounded in extensive research and the author’s childhood and travels in South Africa, Bloodlines interweaves gripping drama with fictional characters and historical figures — Nelson Mandela, among others. Covering a span from 1953 to 2003, Michaela’s story is told from the perspectives of the son she abandoned, the husband she betrayed, and the lover who inspired her to sacrifice her reputation, her career aspirations, and her family — and who brought her tremendous joy and incredible pain.
As a quiet engineering student, Lenny Green fell in love with the strong, stubborn, strikingly beautiful Michaela as he watched four policemen escort her out of the university newspaper’s office and into custody for writing an editorial critical of government policy. Soon after, Lenny became Michaela’s constructive critic, collaborator, and devoted husband. He never stopped loving her — and never forgave her for committing an unspeakable act of infidelity.
Mandla Mkhize, known to friends by his Zulu clan name, Khabazela, was a schoolteacher in Sophiatown when he met a pretty, young white radical named Michaela, who touched his heart. A few years later, after violent attacks against his people drove Mandla into combat training, he met Michaela again at underground meetings and protests. Swept up in their shared fervor for political activism, Mandla and Michaela fell into a dangerous liaison, culminating in charges of sabotage and miscegenation. Being sentenced to prison only marked the start of the hardships and heartache ahead for the lovers who dared to defy their nation’s greatest taboo.
The final authority on her story is Michaela. As this passionate, headstrong, complex woman recounts the daring twists and tragic turns in her life, readers will find themselves asking the questions that gnaw at her son, Steven — a middle-aged man who never stopped mourning and yearning to know his mother. Why did Michaela remain a stranger to Steven, even after 1992, when apartheid came to an end? Were her actions heroic or reckless? What is the truth? Did she make the ultimate sacrifice for her country, or did she force her family to forego their happiness for her own?
With historical accuracy and vivid immediacy, Bloodlines captures the day-to-day brutality of apartheid, the rich customs and spirituality of Zulu culture, and the breathtaking beauty and daunting wilds of South Africa. While firmly set in the context of apartheid South Africa, Bloodlines raises universal questions about the limits of tolerance and forgiveness, the hold of the past, and the enduring bond between mother and child, regardless of distance or age.
Prologue to Bloodlines
"Frankel’s second novel is a tense, expansive family yarn unfolding against the backdrop of violent South African apartheid. Much like the author, central character Steven Green was born in South Africa yet raised in America. Green spent his youth in Boston, mourning his mother Michaela’s mysterious disappearance after her secretive anti-apartheid work was exposed and she was arrested. Now a married father in his mid-40s in 2001, Green feels spurred, after his father’s death, to unearth his mother’s remarkable history as an insurgent. The remaining bulk of the novel is told through Michaela’s letters and the manuscripts of her husband, Lenny, and those of Mandla Mkhize, her African tribal lover. Frankel’s emotive narrative, dictated through these three separate voices, provides an outpouring of respect for Michaela and her staunch political beliefs, but also offers unique, equally powerful perspectives on the woman herself and the plight of terror-stricken black Africans in a racial apartheid stronghold. Lenny’s story is one of courtship and love; Michaela’s is strong and outspoken, while Mandla’s adoration of her somehow makes her infidelity a purposeful sin. Despite the convincing intensity of Frankel’s backdrop, his prose is at times underwhelming for such a powerful survival novel. Overall, however, the theme packs a punch and will resonate with readers eager for a new perspective on apartheid."Publishers Weekly
"From author Frankel (The Third Power), a novel about a family fractured by apartheid and a son who struggles to piece everything together. Having left South Africa at a young age, Steven Green grew up in America under the cloud of a missing mother and a father who wouldn’t talk about her. It’s not until the death of Steven’s father that the complex tale of his mother, Michaela, unfolds. As a radical working against apartheid, Michaela suffered through various torments, including prison and public humiliation. Forced to leave behind her old identity and family, Michaela emerged as a covert figure in a notoriously violent period of South African history. Ever the committed radical, Michaela managed to not only survive but flourish under the incredible strains of her outlaw life. Steven, an adult and with a family of his own in the early 2000s, uncovers Michaela’s life via a series of writings authored by his father, Lenny, Michaela herself and Michaela’s Zulu lover, Mandla. The alternating narratives provide insight from three distinct individuals and their three distinct responses to the horrors of apartheid. Steven manages to accept his mother’s infidelity, and he eventually agrees to travel to South Africa to see what has become of the country he remembers so poorly. Though Steven and his descriptions can be bland (“Aside from the beauty and grandeur of the landscape, what struck me most was how much space there was, and how few people lived in it”), the majority of Michaela’s story can be fierce and thrilling. While her seemingly thoughtless infidelity and blatant privilege (she is the only daughter of a well-to-do dentist who happens to be just as radical as she) do not make her the most sympathetic of characters, her survival in a time of open fear and very real danger shed important light on a time period that often seems too absurdly backwards to be true. Occasional coincidences border on the melodramatic, but guarded checkpoints full of humorless Special Branch agents do not. A worthwhile account of the anti-apartheid struggle."Kirkus Indie Review
"Bloodlines is not only a compelling, moving love story that features two remarkable, believable people, but their passionate quest for happiness is inextricably woven into South Africa’s recent history as they fight against the injustices of apartheid. Neville Frankel’s native land is as much a character in this novel as the people he has created. He takes his readers into a journey that explores the vivid contrasts of a country both beautiful and brutal, and rewards us with a book that is a triumphant celebration of human dignity and the abiding power of love."Lucie Prinz,
"Having participated in the struggle for justice in South Africa, I am deeply touched by Bloodlines. For me, and for the many who sacrificed their lives and families for the freedom of others, this is a profoundly personal and moving story. The future of many of South Africa's citizens once seemed bleak and hopeless, but the Truth and Reconciliation Act began the healing process, moving South Africa forward from violence, divisiveness and hatred. The work of reconciliation is not yet complete–but Bloodlines is a call to hope and healing, and it is also a work about love and justice, and about the possibility of redemption. It will undoubtedly inspire many, both within South Africa and around the world. Although Bloodlines is a work of fiction, it offers the clearest understanding I have yet seen of what it was like for fair-minded people to live under apartheid, and what they suffered as South Africa fought for and gained its freedom. For South Africans too young to have lived under apartheid, this book should be required reading. It does not take long for a whole generation to lose the knowledge of their own history, and the significance of what their parents achieved. Neville is a gifted writer and storyteller, and I am deeply honored to have had a hand in the editing process."Professor Michael Langa,
"I began [Bloodlines] about week or ten days ago and found it to be one of those novels that I can’t put down and therefore regret to finish. I have read it through, and wish there were more. First, it’s an unbeatable narrative. Second, it’s about believable people, and third, it gives an illuminating exposure of a place and period in our time about which most of us are poorly informed, apartheid being for most Americans only a distant relative of the slavery/segregation years of our own country. It was a rich insight by Mr. Frankel to demonstrate with such specificity the interaction between a family and a fragmented society, [the latter of which] existed in the first place out of the imperialism the strong have so often exerted over the weak. Among other reflections aroused in me came from his careful and sympathetic insights into the deep structure of Zulu society, which we Europeans have presented mostly as “primitive” and awaiting our erasure so we can inscribe our own. Frankel has entertained us, informed us in the history of our time and enlisted our critical eye on much we mistakenly take for granted."Dr. Stan Leavy,
"Bloodlines by Neville Frankel is a wonderfully written and powerful story that embraced me emotionally and intellectually. It illuminates the history of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa through four generations of an extended family thereby making it both universal and personal. The structure of the story allows the reader to view each of the main characters through the eyes of the others. In doing so, the story unfolds in ever deepening layers revealing the consequences of life choices and the reality of the lack of simplistic answers. Ultimately this book is about love. How romantic love, as well as love of country and family in all its complexities, shapes history and how history shapes love. It is a compelling and fascinating book full of the physical beauty of South Africa. Neville Frankel comes home with his heart wide open."Leslie Elfant,
"Bloodlines is a great book! What makes this a great book for me? Searching the Internet to find what others consider some of the criteria, I found an explanation that resonated with me by sci-fi author Angie Lofthouse: ‘Great books have great characters. Characters we can love. Characters we can hate. Characters we can root for. Characters we want to hang out with. Characters we want to be. I believe great characters are the most important part of a great book.’ You will care deeply about the characters in Bloodlines. For me, they were ‘flesh ‘n blood’ people. ‘Great books also have great plots. Plots that matter. Plots that make our hearts pound and linger with us long after we put the book down. Great plots stem from great characters.’ You will have a hard time putting Bloodlines aside until you’re finished. Then, you will want to read it again and again. I do. ‘Great books also have a strong sense of setting. We feel like we are there, whether it’s New York City, a small country farm, or a faraway fantasy kingdom. We can see it, smell it, feel it, live in it. It’s so much more than just the geography. It’s the culture, the history and everything else culminating in a place so real we can visit it again and again in our mind.’ You will see, smell, feel and live in South Africa. You will deepen your understanding of the struggles against apartheid and develop an appreciation and respect for the Zulu culture. ‘Great books have real emotion. They make us feel something. Joy, pain, love, hate, envy, peace. Great books bring out the strongest emotions inside us. They show us what it is to be human.’ You will feel deeply from the indignities suffered to passionate desire and the transformative power of forgiveness. Through visual and visceral writing, Neville Frankel has given us a great book because he is a great writer!"Carol Remz,
"Bloodlines is exactly the kind of novel book groups crave – large scope, fascinating characters, complex relationships, and beautifully written prose. Frankel writes from the heart and so makes a real connection with readers. The book sparked so many good discussions among our book club about the nature of family and finding oneself and the horrifying truths about apartheid. I would read it again and again."Carole Osterer,
"An evocative page-turner, Bloodlines is a compelling story that moves between powerful scenes in apartheid South Africa and Boston. I devoured this book whose scope majestically encompasses international relations while focusing intently on individuals in one family. Written as a reminiscence, Frankel’s intensely evocative prose imbues the tale with a dreamlike quality which is further enhanced by his deft play with time and location. I came to deeply care about the characters and missed them when I finished reading. The richly depicted resistance movement to apartheid is told from the perspective of a man’s search for his past which includes the mysterious story of his mother’s tragic death when he was seven. Themes of liberation, oppression, loss and reconciliation are masterfully woven into the texture of this novel as it explores the movement of a family between three countries. Frankel’s respectful depiction of the deep emotional lives of his characters allows the reader to experience the vividness of their interpersonal relationships as if one were there. For readers who enjoy John Banville or Ian McEwan, Bloodlines is a must read."David Sloan-Rossiter,
"The essence of a great novel is its ability fully to transcend time, to engage the reader with ageless truths and believable characters, and to develop a story line that expresses the essential goodness of the human condition. Bloodlines, written by Neville Frankel, merits such distinction. With clarity of vision and majesty of prose, Mr. Frankel introduces the reader to beautifully limned characters, majestic, albeit feral, landscapes, interesting history and an underlying, deadly protagonist, Apartheid South Africa. Bloodlines awakens the reader to a time gone by and sharpens its purpose as a novel by visual and almost tactile emotions, illustrating the author’s vibrant command of language and innate understanding of the land of his birth, South Africa. One reads with utter fascination the lengthy struggles of all involved, the resilience and strength of personal conviction that remain steadfast despite near-insurmountable challenges, the singular respect given each character, and the resolute determination to end a national horror. In unison and without umbrage, the voices made triumphant by Mr. Frankel’s novel vitiate temporal judgment and penetrate the very soul of the reader. Such defines a masterpiece. Such is Bloodlines."MMT,
"When a good writer weaves together public events with private experiences, the reader is able to effortlessly move into another era, another landscape, and share the emotions experienced by the major players in the story. That’s what Neville Frankel has done in Bloodlines – with a spare grace that evokes without overwhelming, and inspires without cajoling. He brings to life the indignities and injustices suffered by many at the hands of the apartheid government, and the quest of one Boston couple to understand how it has affected their lives which, in the end, brings forth their own truth and reconciliation."Jill Greenberg,