There are many sides to any story, especially one involving a mysterious death, and in Who Killed Piet Barol? Richard Mason makes sure we know them all. We are privy to the thoughts and feelings of Piet and his family, the guides Piet hires to lead him through the Gwadana forest of South Africa, and the villagers whose sacred Ancestor Trees Piet seeks to cut down. Even the animals and the trees themselves are given a voice. These perspectives add a richness and urgency to the setting, drawing clear attention to the myriad ways the forest is at Piet’s mercy, and, conversely, Piet is at the forest’s. We’ve compiled a few of the passages from more diverse points of view here so you, too, can imagine yourself deep in Africa’s greatest forest.
A rock python
Piet would not have fallen asleep so easily had he known that the occupant of the hole in the hollow tree was a five-metre long female rock python who weighed fifteen times what he did. This python had noted with alarm the settling of three strange apes in the clearing of which she was used to being undisputed sovereign. Each noonday she lay in the sun, warming herself to the point of near expiration before returning to the tree, coiling round her eggs and incubating them. Her nostrils twitched as one of the apes came closer. (p. 74–75)
The leopard whose dreams had been disturbed by the far-off scent of hairy apes moved gingerly out of a cave, having eaten three bats who had chosen a dangerous perch. The fact offended his leopardly pride. He had sired eighty-two cubs, been lord of the territory of a thousand trees. To be dining on bats was a humiliation. He had not caught an impala for three winters. He had almost forgotten their taste—but not the luscious pluck as his claw sliced into plump, moist flesh. (p. 76)
A yellow and black liveried spider
The night’s yield had been generous, the moths flavoursome. She knew of the presence of males at the outer edges of her web, and tentative tremors this morning told her that one of them had taken his courage in both pedipalps. She was surfeited and had no idea to eat him. She had not yet reproduced, and her carapace tingled with readiness to take her own step in the magnificent currents of creation. She awaited his approach. He stopped. She did not move, and neither did he. She was conscious of his fear, and a part of her thought less of him. She started on another moth, so that he might feel that her attention was elsewhere engaged; and indeed this did set the web trembling again, as he came nearer. (p. 81–82)
An adolescent baboon
Watching the hairless apes pass so close, aware that other males of his own kind would soon be along, he was seized by a strong desire to steal something from the strangers. A trophy, to show he feared nothing and no one. He would not risk an assault on the fully grown male, but there was a baby hairless ape, whose fur was a very strange colour. This baby was holding a bright orange sphere, which became instantly attractive. (p. 229)
An Ancestor Tree
The tree had never endured such a purposeful assault. She did not know what to make of it. The consciousness of a tree, though profound, is not swift. The price for longevity is paid in speed of movement. Only the insects stayed loyal, able to conceive of no other home. She felt her root connections to other trees begin to sever as the hairless apes dug deeper and deeper. Her roots stretched far, but the apes dug further. And then the training ropes were applied. And thus the mighty tree was felled.
And there she died. (p. 209)