The Eastern Cape can be a dog’s life – so difficult to define or comprehend, so edgy, so frontline. That’s why our writers, like Div de Villiers and his latest novel, Milo: The Education of a Wild Man are different.
We should not wag our tails and lick our writers’ faces merely because they are our writers, right or wrong. Rather we should frolic, bark and roll with them when they manage to strike down in words, the quintessential essence of our Eastern Cape nature.
For that reason, we should embrace and howl our literary appreciation to the world.
So De Villiers had a dog, actually many, but one of these mighty species, a cheeky, feisty little bitch, stole his heart. Milo, the runt of the litter, with her chocolate-coloured patch over her right eye, was for De Villiers the real deal.
De Villiers’ official title is a mouthful: the director of compliance and enforcement in the Eastern Cape department of economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, abbreviated to the Green Scorpions.
But many in the province know him as “Div”, the tree trunk of a man coming in at 1.97m (six foot six).
He is a ranger and nature conservationist who rose through the ranks to become our main environmental crime fighter. He’s the guy in charge of trying to bring down rhino poachers in the province.
He is also a wild bastard, with a woes temper. An animal with all the instincts, and he makes no bones about this when he subtitles his latest book Milo, with The Education of a Wild Man.
Primarily, De Villiers is a family man and, when juxtaposed with all his robust, rugged, rampaging, something had to give.
He says his latest 209-page work is fiction, but admits it’s not.
It is a deep memoir, both of his dog, but also a reckoning with himself.
De Villiers is a raconteur, a creative writer to the bottom of his sturdy leather boots.
This is his third published work, moving from two different editions of the must-read Mkambati and the
which he co-authored with photographer John Costello of Port St Johns, and a short story collection on rhino poaching.
Milo, will, however, stop you in its tracks. It has all the feel and flavour of Eastern Cape life. It is all there and written in our language, using words and phrases, our subconscious landscape.
This is its upper layer of normality like the fresh, wholesome pastry of a famous Eastern Cape pie, which then flakes away to reveal the darker meat and potatoes.
Milo is no happy folk tale. It has an underside, a brutal honesty, with bits where you will need to start mumbling or faking it, should you be reading it to the kids.
It may all be an epitaph to Milo, and written lovingly through the eyes of the dog, but there is literally only a shaving of biltong between the man and his fiction.
We see the violence of nature, of snakes and dogs clawing and striking, and the war of love and lust between men and women.
There are intimacies, jealousies and bouncing in the bedroom – and who really wants to think about what the dog has seen in that department!
And there is heart-wrenching betrayal.
“Boss”, as Milo calls her owner, needs to be forgiven, and Milo has a most forgiving heart.
By the end of the tale one is so mesmerised by Boss’s dubious but entertaining life choices that it is hard to focus on his constant battle against the poacher, a rich scuzzball, who is fictionalised, but you know he is real, or, as De Villiers says is a composite of a cohort of environmental crooks who make millions out of destroying the little that is left of our wilderness and wildlife.
There is really nothing to describe a book like this. It is part Louis l’Amour, Wilber Smith, Percy Fitzpatrick, definitely not Jane Austen, but it has a lot to say about that frontier.
And when all is said and done, there is gratitude for a story well told, with vivid description and blind courage.
It’s probably a thriller, an original, modern-day rollicking “Easterner” and it’s definitely going to sit snugly in an Eastern Cape Christmas stocking for him and her!
And don’t be fooled by the sweet painting of the doggy and the dozing rhino. Look again. That rhino is dead.