South Africa has proven a rich source of literary fiction recently—last year saw the publication of Marlene Van Niekerk's excellent, innovative Agaat (Tin House), which examined the relationship between a white South African and her black servant during and after apartheid, while Europa recently released Moffie, about a young gay man who is conscripted into the South African Army. With the Dubious Salvation of Jack V., South Africa-born Jacques Strauss tells the story of a young boy—part Afrikaner (descended from Dutch and German settlers), part British—in the waning days of the apartheid era.

Strauss juggles Salvation's many elements with such apparent ease that it's not immediately obvious what a feat he's pulling off. His protagonist, Jack, is a typically callous, sex-curious 11-year-old boy; his childhood is a hodgepodge of He-Man toys and Zulu lessons, of navigating class and cultural divisions between white British and white Afrikaner settlers while taking for granted that black maids exist to serve.