Wednesday Wisdom from Circles in a Forest

Posted October 7, 2020 by elzaread in Wednesday Wisdom / 10 Comments

We haven’t done a Wednesday Wisdom in a couple of weeks. Time flies by so quickly. On Sunday, I promised you that my Mommy is not done with the elephants. She is still going to talk about them for a few posts to come.

Todays Wednesday Wisdom, comes from most probably the best known Afrikaans book of my Mommy’s generation. Luckily it’s been translated into English, so I can share this post with all of you.

Kringe in ‘n bos was the prescribed book for Grade 11/12 for over 20 years. I’m sure there are still schools in South Africa that use this for Afrikaans first language literature studies. If you ask a large number of people, especially men, who are my Mommy’s age (ancient in cat years), what their favorite book is, they will say Kringe in ‘n bos. For some of them, it’s most probably because it’s the only book they’ve ever read. But for a read-aholic like my Mommy, it’s just one of her favorite books and truly the greatest Afrikaans book ever written.


Saul Barnard is a woodcutter with a restless soul – he wants to keep strangers away from the Forest and stop the destruction of the Forest. There is also the legendary elephant bull – Old Foot – which broke free from his herd. Old Foot and Saul share a strange bond … In the green duskiness of the Outeniqua they walk on circular paths. Saul Barnard, rejected by his people and humiliated by unscrupulous timber merchants; Old Foot, relentlessly followed by hunters. A man and his animal brother – together in an untouched ancient forest that is being destroyed by gold diggers, woodcutters and other eradicators. Saul follows Old Foot’s tracks, closer and closer to the truth that will change his life forever.


Dalene Matthee is one of my Mommy’s all time favorite authors and she’s read all her books. Some more than once. The influence this author had on my Mommy’s love for reading and Afrikaans, goes beyond measure.  Especially The Forest books. This is also where her love for elephants were first born. (Her love for cats luckily came from birth)

In 1886, 400 to 500 elephant roamed the forest. However, by 1972, only 12 of these magnificent animals were left. What happened to them? Who destroyed them and why? Searching for answers, she stumbled upon a wealth of information and started to write her very first novel on the forest. According to her, she wrote Kringe in ‘n bos (Circles in a Forest) to try and tell the truth about the forest and its elephants. 


On the photo, you can see my mommy at Dalene Matthee’s memorial in the Knysna Forest. The setting for most of The Forest Books and also Dalene Matthees’s final resting place. Don’t let the big smile fool you, she first cried her heart out.

But let’s get back to Circles in a Forest.

“Saul Barnard is a unique figure in our literature. The events grab you to such an extent that you will never drive past Knysna again without thinking about those people and how they suffered.”
                                    – Elza Joubert
If you will one day be so fortunate to visit the Knysna Forest and the Dalene Matthee Memorial, do take the time to do the Circles in a Forest hiking trail. There is one for 3km (about 1.8 miles), or one for 9km (about 5.5 miles). The scenery is magnificent and as you walk your own circle in a forest, you feel so close to Saul and Oupoot and all the other forest inhabitants. You also do feel very small if you look up at some of those trees that has been there for centuries.


Can you imagine how small I will be next to that tree? I’ll climb for days just to reach the first branch.

Kringe in ‘n bos has been translated into 11 languages, none as beautiful as the original Afrikaans. To spare you the use of Google Translate, my Mommy will share her favorite quote from this book with you in Afrikaans and then in English. Now isn’t she just the nicest person.

“Ek weet nie wat om te sê nie, Kate. Ek weet net dat ek ‘n halwe mens sonder jou is.”     
“I don’t know what to say, Kate. I just know that I’m only half a person without you.”

My Mommy says she thinks she was only half a person until she hugged an elephant.

She says it was one of the most wonderful experiences of her entire life. They went for a walk and the elephant really holds your hand with it’s trunk. The elephant with her is named Marula and as you can see, they were having a very deep and meaningful conversation.
I don’t know how I feel about that. I think I will go and scratch a couch or climb a curtain now.
Please let me know if you’ve ever heard of Kringe in ‘n bos / Circles in a Forest, or even better – if you’ve read it!
Lots of Love,






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10 responses to “Wednesday Wisdom from Circles in a Forest

  1. Thanks for educating me about Dalene Matthee … I didn't know about her but now I do … and since I like conservation/natural history kinds of books … I definitely plan to read her … thanks! I will look for her books at my library

  2. If you had asked me what a famous book from South Africa was, I would have probably named a book by Coetzee or Paton or Gordimer. This book is completely new to me. I'm quite taken with nature; it sounds like a book I would enjoy. I don't have high hopes of finding it easily here, but I will add it to my list for the future. Elephants would be enough for me, but trees, too?

    • Hi there Debs! Yes, Paton and Coetzee and Gardimer are iconic and legendary for South African literature, but they wrote in English. Not translated. Dalene Matthee is in my very humble opinion, the greatest Afrikaans author ever.

      The last couple of years, there has been a boom in Afrikaans literature and I am so glad about that. Way more books are also being translated. That makes me very happy.

      I'm so glad you found a copy of Circles in a Forest. I think you are going to enjoy it tremendously.

  3. I haven't heard of this but it sounds like a beautiful book. I'm glad you got to walk in the footsteps of something so special to you and have a magical time with the elephants. That sounds amazing!

    I was able to visit Prince Edward Island (from the Anne of Green Gables books by L. M. Montgomery) last summer and I didn't actually cry when I walked through the Green Gables gates but it was a close thing. I was so excited, I think I was vibrating.

    • Hi there Jen, I would love to do a type of tour where you go visit places where some of our favorite books take place in. You will have to plan a tour like this individually though, as everyone will have a different tour.

      I still think it will be a great idea to have a Seven Sisters tour!! Lucinda Riley must get her marketing team on it.