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At the turn of the 20th century, the British targeted two Boer states in South Africa. The Boers were the descendants of Dutch immigrants, also known as Afrikaners.

Inspired by the experiences of author Dave Boling’s grandfather as a soldier during that war, The Lost History of Stars is a sad but lovely novel. Through young teen Lettie’s eyes, author Boling depicts what happened to the women and children during that fight. While the British army hunted down the Boer men, who scattered and used their knowledge of the terrain to their advantage, the women and children were taken from their homes and held in overcrowded camps lacking food and other essentials.

Lettie navigates the uncertain early teen years in this state of privation, trying to aid and protect the people she loves. Smart and resourceful, she soon learns the emotional cost of caring for others in a place where life is so fragile, where people will turn on each other to hold on to what little they have. Meanwhile she has no idea what is happening to her father, grandfather, and older brother as they fight.

The ugliness of the camp is juxtaposed with the wild beauty of the land. Lettie’s bravery and determination to survive are nurtured by her memories of better times in their family home when she and her grandfather would sneak out to survey the stars at night.

The strong, stubborn, and sometimes harsh faith of her Dutch Calvinist heritage gives her courage at times, seeing God as the Rock of Ages who hides her in his cleft. At other times it confounds her as she wonders how a sovereign God could allow such horrible things to happen to the people she loves, and she wonders if she is being punished for something.

The novel says little about the ways that the indigenous people of South Africa were affected by this war; for better or for worse, its scope isn’t that wide. However, this is an effective portrayal of the way displaced people suffer when their human dignity is ignored. (Algonquin)

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