For world-wide readers, indeed also for a lot of South Africans in whose country this novel is set, the backstory will be an eye-opening look into the culture and traditions of Xhosa people on the one hand and urban black folk on the other.
Indeed, there are two stories, side by side, hardly touching except that the two characters were once married and share a son.
The man, Nakedi, inadvertently ensnared in criminality, takes his son with him as he goes on the run from the city to his childhood homelands of the Transkei’s Wild Coast. He finds that he has lost all empathy with regard to his childhood there and his relatives, but is coerced into going to look for his young cousin in Port St. Johns where the young man has run away to endure the right of manhood; circumcision, a ceremony of huge significant to Xhosa traditional culture. He needs to keep his identity a secret for two reasons.
One is his fear of the Cops, and the other is the fact that, as a Xhosa, he had circumcision by modern medical means and avoided the traditional way. His adventures are many and varied as he tries to come to terms with his cultural values and his responsibilities as a father.
Back in the city, his radio presenter ex-wife, Kele, in the meanwhile is lured to an underground hideout to be coached to announce the dawn of the new South African revolution, the awakening of the black nation. No more capitulating to the whites! – they advocate. Anyone who fails them, disappoints them, have fingers removed… So, here there is a suspense story to raise the heartrate. However, the writing is not as poetic as that in Nakedi’s story.
It is as if Kele’s tale is a thriller, while Nakedi’s is literature.
It would be a spoiler to say how these threads end, so the curious must find that for themselves. For me, the writing had moments of profound beauty and was positively poetic. There was a lot to think about in the sense of tolerance for the varied cultures and traditions of our fellow human beings. However, if there were conclusions to the two stories, they were just too subtle for me to grasp.
The cover was disappointing; and surely not the author’s fault. But thank you to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to review this ARC.
ISBN: 9781415210079. Penguin Fiction.