The Coastal Star

Return of the Swallows, by Dorothea Praschma. Amazon; 280 pp., $15.99

By Steve Pike

Dorothea Praschma’s granite boulder gravestone in South Africa’s Transvaal reads: “She Gave a Dog a Bone.’’

Through memoirs that span 1935 to 1947, Dorothy, Countess Praschma, gives readers much more than a bone. The memoirs, compiled by her daughter, Ilona Praschma Balfour, vividly tell the tale of an aristocratic family at war with the Nazis, Russians and sometimes each other during the most pivotal time in 20th-century history.

“This is her book,’’ said Balfour, of  Hypoluxo Island.

The story of Dorothy Ferreira, a South African peasant who in 1930 married German aristocrat Englebert, Count Praschma, is as sweeping as any James Michener novel. From castles in what is now the Czech Republic, to European boarding schools, Soviet labor camps and Portuguese East Africa, Return of the Swallows is filled with a cast of real-life characters led by the indomitable wife (widowed in 1941) and mother caught in the madness of war and between two disparate cultures.

“People who knew her loved her and admired her. My mother was always a strong person who was always looking out for us,’’ said Ilona, who has been married to journalist Malcolm Balfour for 50 years.

Ilona Balfour worked off and on for several years to compile her mother’s memoirs into a self-published book that, except for prologue and epilogue, are Countess Dorothy’s own words. The countess died in 1981. 

“It’s not great literature,’’ Balfour said, “but it’s an intriguing story of an interesting time.’’

A story that rings true even today.

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