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Sunday, April 24, 2011


Well-written story provides a fascinating insight into the world of paleoanthropology and fossil hunting. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Based in Australia, Graeme Friedman is a clinical psychologist and an award-winning writer whose short stories have appeared internationally. He is the author of two biographical books Madiba’s Boys and The Piano War and is the co-editor of A Writer in Stone, an anthology of prose and poetry.

His novel, The Fossil Artist, revolves around Russ Codron who had a unique childhood growing up in Krugersdorp. His father was a fossil hunter and he accompanied him on his expeditions. These invariably led to the nearby limestone caves of Sterkfontein, now a World Heritage Site and known as the Cradle of Humankind. A strong bond was formed between them as he learned to pass his father the correct digging tools and learned through watching the process.

When he was thirteen, his father disappeared without a trace leaving the young boy to deal with the loss and many unanswered questions. In his dreams, he imagines rescuing his father from all manner of disasters.

However, his veneration of his father is shattered in later years when, as a grown married man with children, he sees a newspaper story blazoning the headline “Mummified Mass Murderers Disentombed”. He discovers with shock that his father has been identified as one of the alleged murderers whose mummified remains were found in a collapsed cave. Also found in the cave were chopped-up human bone fragments which the police believe could belong to two teenagers whose disappearance was never solved.

Secrets start emerging that have been kept from him all his life. These lead to the questions - what was his father doing in a cave on the Atlantic Coast and who was the African woman with him.

Russ’s wife, a successful contemporary sculptor, does her best to help him come to terms with this earth-shattering information. His teenage daughter is flexing her adolescent wings and is too involved with her boyfriend to be of much support. Then there’s his mentally challenged son, Luc, who lives in his own little world and uses a mixture of languages from his European antecedents. However, Luc often makes startlingly unexpected appropriate comment to disprove the theory that he is backward and his simplistic outlook provides the key to many of the questions that plague Russ.

While paleontology investigates the history of life on Earth, paleoanthropology focuses more on the study of ancient humans as found in petrified bones and footprints. Graeme Friedman provides a fascinating exploration into this subject and creates a tangible atmosphere of the cave as Russ revisits it, driven to make his own findings and exonerate his father.

The Fossil Artist is published by Jacana. ISBN 978-1-77009-924-1 - Caroline Smart