The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.

A Novel

Jacques Strauss

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Jack Viljee’s hometown of Johannesburg is still divided by apart­heid, though the old order is starting to crumble. According to eleven-year-old Jack, the world is a rational and simple place. But if life doesn’t conform to Jack’s expectations, there is always the sympa­thy and approval of the family’s maid to console him. Not that Susie is a pushover. She believes violence, of the nondisfiguring variety, is a healthy form of affection—hence her not infrequent expression “Jack, I love you so much. I will hit you.” Jack himself is not above socking his best friend in the eye or scamming his little sister into picking up the dog mess. The Viljee household, in its small way, mirrors the politics of the country.

This noisy domesticity is upset by the arrival of Susie’s fifteen-year-old son. Percy is bored, idle, and full of rage. When Percy catches Jack in an indelibly shameful moment, Jack learns that the smallest act of revenge has consequences beyond his imagining. The world, it turns out, is not so simple.

Subversively smart and unapologetically funny, clever and a little dangerous, The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. explores the cost of forgive­ness. It is a powerful debut from a fearlessly original voice.


Read an Excerpt


My family lived in a very nice house, on a very nice street in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. It would be easy to get carried away about how nice it all was. If one isn’t careful one might easily sound nostalgic. During the hot afternoons the maids and gardeners sat beneath the trees, chatting in their native tongues. Some had babies strapped to their backs with blankets. The child would lean its head against its mother and doze while she drank a mug of tea or ate mealie meal piled on a plastic plate. Most families in Linden had maids




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  • The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.: Play Time

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  • The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.: Bath Time

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Praise for The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.

“[Jacques] Strauss’s often-hilarious debut captures a remarkable period of time without resorting to any heavy-handed political messaging. And in Jack he has created an unlikely, and utterly believable, voice of a generation. [A] profane, brutally honest portrait of tween angst.” —Kirkus Reviews

Jack is a delight to follow, and despite his youth and his assertion that ‘I might have been precocious but I wasn't particularly smart,’ he proves himself to be a reliable narrator. Strauss uses the child to explore 1980s South Africa, aligning the changes the Viljee clan goes through with those their country is about to face . . . The strength of Strauss’s storytelling and the indelible impressions his creations make hijack the story in the best possible way. A well-crafted atmospheric debut.” —­Publishers Weekly

“Yes, first novelist Strauss delivers a beautifully rendered coming-of-age story that simultaneously unfolds an understanding of life in apartheid South Africa, but what’s most remarkable here is the assured and fluid language. The ending is not melodrama but a quiet, brilliantly controlled bang. For all thoughtful readers.” —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Funny, shrewd, unguarded, elegiac: the story of a boy’s and of a country’s coming of age, The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. is an astounding and indelible debut.” —André Aciman, author of Call Me by Your Name

“South Africa, 1989. Eleven-year-old Jack Viljee is white, grows up privileged. How can this book be very, very funny? It is. It is an utter delight, astute and knowing. Wonderful.” —Sarah Winman, author of When God Was a Rabbit

A terrific read. It’s smart, charming, funny, highly astute, and subtly political. It’s set in Johannesburg, but the story could map onto life anywhere.” —Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X

“Childhood innocence can be hilarious. And brutal. This searing debut by a young South African writer captures the grotesque horror of apartheid in daily life through the voice of Jack, 11, a nice white boy with an English mother and Afrikaans father in Johannesburg in 1989. For Jack, politics is not an issue. He hears his parents talking about change coming, but he knows they don’t really believe it. His relatives are racist but “nothing rampant or unseemly.” He loves the black family maid, Sophie, who lives in a room in the backyard. She is his second mother, and she nurtures him with a firm hand. He fights with his sisters, has fun with his friends, obsesses about girls, worries that he is gay. He feels ashamed when he masturbates (“God simply had no respect for anyone’s privacy”), especially when Sophie’s sullen teenage son spies on him. But being white, Jack knows he is the one with power. His move from bystander to oppressor breaks up everything.” —Hazel Rochman, Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jacques Strauss

  • Jacques Strauss is a thirty-year-old South African. He studied phi­losophy at university, obsessed over Derrida, and now writes reams of corporate copy for a London firm.

  • Jacques Strauss © Wolf Marloh
    Jacques Strauss


Available Formats and Book Details

The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.

A Novel

Jacques Strauss