I have heard people say that when they are captivated so much by a book they hardly put it down. They are always eager to keep on reading and just know what happens next. Well, that’s not how it is with me. I barely want to get to the end.
I baby the book; take it in small doses. That’s how it’s been with the most recent book I’ve read.
Robin’s parents were murdered.
She was still too young to understand what that meant and as a result, processing their deaths was not something she knew how to.
As if things could not get any worse, Mabel, who had been her caregiver left on that same day.
That fateful day, but not only for Robin….
It was probably the first time Robin understood that people were treated differently because of their skin colour.
Mabel, who had accompanied Robin to identify the bodies of her late parents, was in turn assaulted and brutalized by the police…. it was because she was black ….
At the funeral service , a hymn fills the room. The congregation is singing with all the emotion possible. Robin doesn’t know the hymn.. she tells her aunt Edith she doesn’t know it.
Edith tells her it’s okay .. “Hum If You Don’t Know the Words.”
Beauty is a teacher by profession. She lives in Transkei where she cares for her children. One of her children called Nomsa lives in Johannesburg where she also studies. She is under the care of Beauty’s brother, Andile.
Beauty receives a letter …
It’s from Andile. Nomsa is in danger! She is about to lead a group of students in protesting against the whites. It’s going to happen soon. Perhaps the next day. Perhaps when Beauty receives the letter it is already too late.
The journey from the village is a long one. It takes hours, it is tiring. But it’s the only way.
Beauty gets to the city. It’s the day of the protest. In fact, it is beginning at that exact moment. It’s almost evening. Students are everywhere; marching. She can’t see Nomsa. How can she possibly find her in such a huge crowd ? She thinks she has spotted her ever so often, but it’s not her.
The protest is getting heated. She senses something bad will happen. The police have come to the scene. They can’t possibly cease fire on children ! They are children for goodness sake!
Streams of blood, bodies on the ground, murmurs and cries from wounded children – not a word is needed to explain what had just happened.
But where is Nomsa ? She’s not among the injured. Where is she ? Hours of searching have yielded nothing.
It’s night time now.
The parents whose children have been killed by police are angry. No one should know rest that night (save it be permanent). They must avenge their children.
This is the night Robin’s parents had left to go out for a grand dinner, unaware of what was happening.
It’s the night they rested.
That fateful night.
Robin and Beauty, have both experienced loss on this night. For one, it’s permanent, for the other, there is still hope; hope that her daughter is alive.
It doesn’t end there. Robin’s and Beauty’s paths will cross.
The above probably gives away too much about the book. I’ll be honest and say I was ready to go on (truth is I had already went on and realized I could as well be publishing a condensed version of the book here..so I had I stop myself).
Incase it wasn’t clear, the novel is written as a narration by the two main characters; Robin and Beauty.
First of all, Robin is a girl after my heart. She is totally obsessed with Enid Mary Blyton books and if you weren’t in your childhood, I’m so sorry for you.
Robin is a young girl and being born in a white family, narrates her version of the story from the point of privilege. She has to however unlearn the prejudices she has held on for so long. She leans into this and starts seeing people for who they really are and not just their skin colour.
Having experienced a great deal of loss, it is indeed beautiful to see how she finally learns how to find a way to express her grief. The growth in the character of Robin will give you actual goosebumps!
Beauty’s character speaks volumes on the extents a mother would go to for her child. A love that doesn’t hesitate; leaves no room for reason. It’s intense. Overcomes other feelings such as anger, disappointment and shame.
She’s a lady of few words, but many great actions. Her character will remind you of your thoughtful friends.
And as her name suggests, she made everywhere she was at beautiful; the kind that can only come from the heart.
Bianca Marais is the author of this book. She holds a certificate in creative writing from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, where she also teaches creative writing.
The book’s setting is in South Africa – the year 1976. This was the year of the Soweto uprising and the year the author was born.
She wrote the book to give tribute to her caregiver, Eunice who is black. The character of Beauty in the novel is how she chose to depict Eunice.
Eunice who despite not being fortunate to have gone to school formally, was still the one who helped her with her homework. Eunice who always had time for her and in her arms she found her home as her parents were barely around. Eunice who she still speaks to even today.
She imagines if things would have been different. What if Eunice didn’t have to go back to Transkei only once a year to see her family for all those years she worked as her caregiver. A world where Eunice wouldn’t have had to choose the distance just to make sure her family is taken care of in the best way she could.
I will add that, it’s the work she put into writing this book for me 👌🏾
So what do you think the title of this book actually means ?