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The sweeping action of Leaven plays out before the turn of the century in three main areas, none of which had been the subject of fiction before: the Loteni district in the Drakensberg, Pietermaritzburg the colonial capital with its rough justice, and then the gold-mines on the Reef. Two main characters thread through the sprawling cast: Bulalie, the country lad who heads for town in search of his fortune, and David Hyslop, the radical missionary unable to save even his own soul. Their stories intersect at crucial turns, leading to the inevitable tragic and bloody climax. Leaven's subtitle - A Black And White Story - shows that it examines race relations in a way that had never been undertaken before in fiction, and which is startlingly recognisable today.