Set in Namibia just after independence in the early 1990s, Peter Orner’s first novel is a chronicle of the long days, short loves, and cold nights at Goas, an all-boys Catholic primary school so deep in the veld that “even the baboons feel sorry for us.”

Though physically isolated in semi-desert beneath a relentless sun, the people of Goas create an alternate, more fertile universe through the stories they tell each other. The book’s central character is Mavala Shikongo, a combat veteran who fought in Namibia’s long war for independence against South Africa.

She has recently returned to the school — with a child, but no husband. Mavala is modern, restless, and driven, in sharp contrast to conservative Goas. All the male teachers (including a bumbling but observant volunteer from Cincinnati) try not to fall in love with her. Everyone fails — immediately and miserably. This extraordinary first novel explores the history of a place through the stories of its people. But above all it’s about the fleetingness of love and the endurance of fellowship.

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