At an army base close to Voortrekkerhoogte in Pretoria, at the height of summer and South Africa’s Border War, 18-year-old recruits endure an appalling drill sergeant bent on turning them into killing machines for the sadf. They are sleep deprived, and tension mounts in this group of disparate individuals – boys from all walks of life – expected to function as a unit.
Andrew Howard-Smythe, a surfer from Durban, is the first to notice the giant Afrikaans boy Riejkardt Jurgens, whom he describes as a cross between a heavyweight wrestler and an orangutan. After a particularly gruelling training session on a shooting range, it is Riejkardt who snaps, severely injuring three officers before he is restrained.
The investigation that follows is suspicious right from the start. It turns out that, instead of being prosecuted, Riejkardt will be recruited for a sinister military outfit when his propensity for violence is recognised. Thus, this short, hard-hitting novel tracks the making of a henchman. Written in staccato, pointillist prose, Sons of Mud is deeply poetic and original, and a powerful anti-war manifesto.