Monday, June 24, 2013

Buy this one for your book club

I've just finished reading Sister-Sister by Rachel Zadok.

I think a novelist is someone who looks right at a situation, right bang head on, and lives inside it, and puts words to it, and turns it into art. I was going to say: a novelist is not afraid to look, but of course they might be afraid, but they look anyway.

I imagine South African authors as living in a constant state of low-grade post-traumatic stress disorder, because their denial mechanism doesn't work as well as it does for others. They can't look away. This is also how I feel about my husband, who cannot look away in his job as a doctor in a government hospital, and who feels overwhelmed by the responsibility and the hopelessness sometimes (often).

So, Sister-Sister not only acknowledges Aids and poverty and rape and violence, it is absolutely central to the story, but it doesn't feel like it AT ALL. So please, don't be put off, thinking this is a worthy preachy tome that will make you feel like shit - this is one of those books where it is impossible to say what it is about and actually reflect what's inside the pages. It doesn't feel like a deliberate story about Issues Of The Day, it just feels like a reflection of what we can all see around us, when we are willing to see. Rachel's not (only) beating a drum, she's telling a damn good, gripping story.

So, to use my interpretation/metaphor of writers as PTSD sufferers, this novel escapes to a fantasy not-too-distant future in South Africa and it includes lots of elements of magical realism - maybe just to cope, or to split, a little bit, from our present. It doesn't provide answers, but it tells one hell of a story on the way.

The subject matter is heavy, or horror, dark, surreal, terrible, and yet the novel is not. I love novels that play with language, and this one has names and speech patterns and repetitions and made-up words and other devices that always make my toes curl a little when reading. It's a pleasure to read. It's got humour when it's needed.

I love this book. I think it is bloody marvellous. More South Africans should write these stories. I want non-South Africans to read this book. I can only hope it will be translated, and that some stories like these about SA also become known internationally.

Please go and buy it for your book club right now and tell me what you think of it.


  1. I also wish there were more South African writers who write about South Africa.

  2. Ordered. Now I just hope it arrives in time for bookclub. I'm doing a South African theme - all SA writers next month!