When you first start reading this book, you will need to get to grips with the language gap; it is clear that English is not this author’s first written language. Once you do, however, what you will find is a tremendously powerful fable; which is disturbing and heart-rending in equal measure. At the very least, it gives us a dramatic insight into growing up in a culture most of us will be unfamiliar with. And it is very good. I’m truly sorry to say that the language gap did have a bearing on my review, because this book is an eye-opener; perhaps most upsetting of all is the matter-of-fact language Bokang uses to tell a tale of friendships destroyed and lives wasted in a culture of brutality, violence and a shocking lack of value placed on people’s lives – good, bad and utterly unconnected in any way to the main plot.
But this book’s strength isn’t in its more hard-hitting moments; quite the contrary, in fact: it is made by the poignant messages within it, the love between people and the hopes of redemption for even the most brutal and lost. Gama is a character who is multi-layered, and the path of his vicious friend Moses is a cautionary tale for him; almost a metaphor of what Gama is destined to become. No threat is descriptively spared the reader, and the boys know well the profundity of the decisions they make, and the real terms for both them and anybody unfortunate enough to be close to them. If this is what life is like growing up in certain war-torn countries, then those of us apparently exempt have a lot to learn. It is timely and incredibly thought-provoking.
I like the author’s style. I like the mood set; you can almost feel the oppressive sunshine and dryness – the brain-addling, decision-influencing perception of opportunity (or lack thereof) and consequence. These boys and girls have big dreams, but you can see why: the downside of not achieving, or at the very least pursuing those dreams is very, very bleak indeed. There is an almost Biblical contrast between the direction the characters take, and I’m sure there are Biblical references in this book – none less than some of the character names. I don’t doubt that the author is a faithful person, but thankfully refrains from turning this into interpretation of scripture. It is a fable – perhaps even a parable of sorts, sure – but first and foremost it is an exposé of a life and culture many of us think we know and take for granted. I enjoyed reading this book and I praise it enormously. Admittedly, I would like to see it edited for an English-reading audience, though I also acknowledge the importance of retaining vernacular; some of it is just a little too scattered to put together, and it does affect the reader experience a little; I wouldn’t be truthful suggesting otherwise. But, even in its current form, it is highly recommended, and definitely worth a read by anyone willing to learn something about the lives of their fellow humans.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: bokang-murdock-montjane war violent gritty fiction african cultural