Helena “Vaselinetjie” Bosman is a little white girl who lives in a small rural town somewhere in the Northern Cape, with her coloured grandparents who love her dearly. That is until the welfare discovers that Vaselinetjie is not their biological grandchild and she is sent off to a state boarding school outside Johannesburg. Vaselinetjie’s life is drastically altered as she is forced to confront a crueller reality, with damaged children, indifferent caretakers and endless disappointments.
Director Corné van Rooyen will be bringing this classic to the big screen on 22 September 2017.
Anoeschka von Meck manages to make any reader relate to a young orphan confused about her race and identity. This is mostly due to the sincerity with which she approaches these continuously relevant topics of a post-apartheid South Africa. Instead of pushing a political agenda or injecting any social commentary, Vaselinetjie draws from Von Meck’s own experiences as a caretaker at a children’s home. This allows for a story where the reader is able to be fully enveloped in a reality far different from their own.
In this different reality, the plot develops slowly and for the most part Vaselinetjie steers clear of any clichéd or exaggerated plot devices. The reader is left exposed to the psychological turmoil of a character that is trying to succeed in a world that only expects her to fail. That is how Von Meck establishes such a strong connection with her readers, as she uses the titular Vaselinetjie to peer into the soul of anybody who has ever felt rejected and alone.
Still, Von Meck cannot avoid a flare for the dramatic when she introduces Vaselinetjie’s star-crossed lover, Texan Kirby. Regardless of the unoriginality of their story, the tenderness of Vaselinetjie and Texan’s romance prevails. Through the sweetness of young love, the reader will find themselves actively routing for the two teenagers.
The novel’s biggest flaw is that at times Von Meck severs Vaselinetjie’s strong ties to realism in favour of a more positive outcome. Although the argument can be made that this diversion from the harsh truth inspires hope and optimism in her readers, von Meck is nonetheless sacrificing the fervent potency of Vaselinetjie.
Vaselinetjie is an easy read infused with charming colloquialisms to properly engage the reader. Through simply telling a story she is deeply passionate about and consciously avoiding overzealous academic writing, von Meck transports the reader to Vaselinetjie’s world.
Although often forgotten in the shadow of even darker novels such as Dis ek, Anna and Thula Thula, Vaselinetjie’s value transcends the prescribed high school books it is categorised with. The novel beautifully captures the vital importance of discovering your own identity in a society primarily concerned with race and class.