In a Pale Blue Light

Lily Poritz Miller
  • Review
By – September 13, 2011
Lily Poritz Miller is a South African born play­wright who co-edit­ed a book of let­ters that were writ­ten by fam­i­ly and friends in Lithua­nia and abroad in the first part of the 20th cen­tu­ry. A Thou­sand Threads, pub­lished in 2005, gave her a keen insight into the tur­moil expe­ri­enced by Lithuan­ian emi­grants, and like­ly led her to the sub­ject mat­ter of her first nov­el, In a Pale Blue Light.

The book tells of a fam­i­ly of Lithuan­ian immi­grants to Cape Town, South Africa in the ear­ly 1900’s, draw­ing on Miller’s own child­hood mem­o­ries of the city. The sto­ry is about the hard­ships encoun­tered by Sara, a recent wid­ow, and her five chil­dren as they try to set­tle in a new coun­try where apartheid is rife and the white peo­ple around them are either anti-Semit­ic Boers or new Jew­ish immi­grants like them­selves. Unlike them­selves, though, many of the Jews around them are hap­py with seg­re­gat­ed South Africa. More­over, they’re social climbers and prone to inter­fere in and gos­sip about the mis­for­tunes of oth­ers. 

It’s poten­tial­ly great fod­der for a sto­ry, but unfor­tu­nate­ly Miller’s char­ac­ters are insuf­fi­cient­ly devel­oped and don’t spring to life. Part of the prob­lem is the words that come out of their mouths. They don’t feel a nat­ur­al fit with the char­ac­ters and their respec­tive ages — pri­mar­i­ly the teenag­er Lie­ba, whose thoughts are reflect­ed in a dis­course that’s total­ly out of line with her age. 

This makes In a Pale Blue Light a dif­fi­cult read, though for any­one who lived in South Africa, and par­tic­u­lar­ly those read­ers of Lithuan­ian stock, it offers some inter­est­ing insights into the chal­lenges expe­ri­enced by their recent ancestors.

Lau­ren Kramer is a Van­cou­ver-based jour­nal­ist, wife, and moth­er with a life­long pas­sion for lit­er­a­ture. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, she has won awards for her writ­ing and report­ed from many cor­ners of the world. Read more of her work at www​.lau​renkramer​.net.

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