I’ve been bothered by something since last week. Actually, I’ve been a little bothered for some time now. Being a writer who makes sense of the world by grouping words on a page means that I have to do this thing – even if it’s hard and I would rather be swimming in cold water or something. I’ve canvassed so many titles for this blog too: ‘the trouble with (or the difference between) lawyers and laymen’, ‘the arrogance of academia,’ ‘the art of objectivity’, ‘the maddening demeanor of certain males’ but none seemed better than this:
Still searching for Sarah’s son since that’s exactly what I want to say.
Why am I agonizing over this?
Well, simply because I’d like to explain something. I’m taking the opportunity (irrationally or irresponsibly or not) to answer the accusations and dispel the falsehoods or maybe just stand up for myself and women in general who have felt demeaned, disempowered, dismissed. Frankly, the accusations are not even that onerous or insulting but of course, as with most stories, there is always another side to tell.
And I am a storyteller in this story.
But since my own integrity feels at stake and my prowess as a lawyer (not a storyteller) has been the subject of attack – now once more than I can tolerate, and because I can’t bear injustices and unsubstantiated subjectivity, this blog must out!
More than likely though, nothing happens, no-one responds or cares or comments and that’s okay too.
Either way, this blog was going to be written. Because then I can move on with other things you see.
Searching for Sarah, the woman who loved Langenhoven is a book I wrote on the life of Sarah Goldblatt, literary executrix of the icon Afrikaner writer CJ Langenhoven.
‘In 1932, Afrikaans literary icon CJ Langenhoven died suddenly. He surprised the Afrikaner establishment by naming a young Jewish woman, the fiery redhead Sarah Eva Goldblatt, executrix of his literary legacy.
Since childhood, Dominique Malherbe had been intrigued by the mystery surrounding her great-aunt and Langenhoven. She finally set out to discover Sarah’s story, reclaim her for posterity, and find Sarah’s son. In this biography-cum-memoir she uncovers a fascinating literary love story.’
The story – as the name suggests- was to uncover the life of Sarah. It was an attempt to understand the deep devotion and dedication she had towards Langenhoven and to explore the roots of her own family to understand her influences. Part of the intrigue was to resolve the mystery and rumour, initiated in our own family, that Sarah had a son with Langenhoven.
Of course, I tried to understand the story from the Langenhoven family too. They were integral to my research, and it was with them that I began- once I had been told, on several occasions from my own family about a supposed love child.
From those few interviews it became quite clear to me however, that Sarah’s story had already been written. Or so I was told. I only had to read Kannemeyer on Langenhoven and ‘improve my Afrikaans’ to understand that there was nothing more to tell. In fact, I was told too that ‘the family’ was not comfortable with me having access to certain letters or documents of hers which were still in their possession. And in my very last contact, I was told, ‘I’m not sure you will find many people who will have anything nice to say about Sarah.’
It was at that point that I decided that I need to explore this story free from all ‘family connections.’ Even my own.
As soon as the book was released, all hell broke loose. And then came the first reviews – from the Afrikaans academia. I knew that the book was controversial. Her life and appointment as his executrix were controversial. What I didn’t expect was that two well- respected (male) academics would focus on searching for Sarah’s son as the main thrust of the book – though the title is obvious, and self-explanatory – for which I provided no conclusive evidence. Neither did I think it would be relevant to comment on my skill or competence as a lawyer. What did he know of me? Why was it relevant?
Here was the first (the excerpt below, translated into English)
Towards the end, she finds: “I solved the secret.”
However, is this true? It amazes me that a writer with a legal background can come to such a definitive conclusion on the basis of such sparse and unreliable data.
(At this juncture, I have to speculate that if I were male, he would not have dared to comment so disparagingly or been openly dismissive).
So now, since not only the title and focus and inconclusive ending seemed confusing, I offer a little on the law of evidence and story- telling and the difference between the two.
You see, in a court of law, when you want to prove something, there are certain rules of evidence. Depending on whether the matter involves civil or criminal law, the burden of proof will differ. Civil liability requires a balance of probabilities though criminal liability demands a much more onerous beyond reasonable doubt. And in between all these are a range of requirements for admissions or confessions or for hearsay evidence or ‘expert’ evidence, and in some cases, only written evidence carries any weight, and in most cases only ‘the best evidence rule’ applies.
Fortunately, in a book, one only tells a story. There is no burden of proof. Only reasonable questions and questionable reasons. My story was about Sarah. And despite all my efforts to find all the evidence, I came up with no conclusive answers. I made that clear. Just some more queries and some strange and silly co-incidences to do with the name van der Merwe and an initial. Even the dates started to flummox me.
However, since the reviewers carry esteemed academic titles and are written by a males (dare I say so!) they garner more support. (I will be sharing all links and reviews in next blog 😊)
The problem with ignorance and arrogance and ridicule though is that it finds it’s little acolytes in the form of others (non- lawyers) who similarly feel at liberty to cast their (seemingly objective but so crystally subjective) views on the value of my evidence.
One thing must be pointed out: The part about the son Sarah was supposed to have had, was NOT well researched and this is proved by no less than by three reviewers. The author makes assumptions someone with a law degree should not even contemplate. For instance she indicated that a certain Doctor van de Merwe could be the son of Sarah and Neelsie. Prof Chris van der Merwe, one of the reviewers of this book, points out that that Doctor van der Merwe was actually his brother and definitely NOT Sarah’s son! The author was looking for someone who never existed and when she found no evidence, she stooped to the level of gossip that undermines the gravitas of the people she wrote about. This includes the accusation against Sarah’s father, which comes down to character assassination as there is no evidence to be presented.
And when I see that, it hurts. And I feel slightly offended. (Here’s the vulnerability part, ala Brene Brown). Though if one takes the trouble to read the book you will see that no conclusions were apparent. Only co-incidences. Character assassinations? Of my great grandfather? Do you really care about him? Or is it me you meant?
But at least I understand the difference between objectivity and subjectivity.
I don’t like being the negative voice, but one cannot wish something to be true if there is no evidence. The two elderly people she interviewed were unfortunately not good witnesses – she said so herself – and Langenhoven’s family (including journalist Willemien Brummer) say if he had a love child, so be it, he was a strange character – they do accept that he cheated on his wife, but nobody knows anything about a child. Personally I don’t think I would have wanted to be his friend if I could – he was a brilliant man, but conceited and a fall-down drunk, but one has to be objective if you write a book like this.
On a more positive note, what I can say, is that I am not deterred to keep searching for Sarah’s son. Because from the other side of the world and in other academic circles are the women who have lauded my efforts in finally telling Sarah’s story. And from others who have since told me ‘but of course we know that Sarah had a son’. My family lived next door to her, but we were told to keep it a secret!’
What does further intrigue me is that everything other than the child (the story of rape, the corroboration with Kannemeyer and anything else I learned in those interviews) were never challenged having been told to me by the same so-called ‘unreliable witnesses.’
Now if only I can get on and do more research…
But finally, I also want to end with one singularly brilliant quote by Schopenhauer that I was reminded of by one of my dearest and respected (male) friends who came and attended the launch, which goes like this:
According to 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer,
“All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.
But I know better that to demean and disparage. It’s of no use to anyone.
All I can do is to continue to write.
And for you, dear readers, to be the judge.
Next LIVE events to be outlined in new blog.
PS: The book is available in all good bookstores (Exclusive Books, Readers Warehouse, Bargain Books and independent stores nationwide and online.)
Please contact me directly if unable to find.