RECENT READS # MY BROTHER’S BOOK – Jo-Anne Richards


Not being fond of Struggle Literature, I’ve avoided her books. I recall a huge hullabaloo over her novel The Innocence of Roast Chicken, (a best-seller in South Africa in 1996). I remember the PC brigade hated it. Quite why, I never discovered. But she has continued to write and this is her fourth novel . It’s a novel of great depth with an unusual format – quite a large part of the narrative – perhaps just under one-third – consists of letters written by Miranda to both Thomas (her first lover and fellow struggle comrade) and his sister, Lily (unwitting trigger of Tom’s discovery, arrest and 12 year jail sentence). The Book is in three parts : Pt 1 – Lily; Pt 2 – Thomas; Pt 3 – Bert (their father). The catalyst is the book which Thomas writes about The Struggle, which prompts Miranda to start writing letters to the pair of them, so there’s an oblique, third-person view and analysis of events already related by the other characters. It’s a complicated format, but it suits the novel about three complicated characters. Lily’s Pt 1 is about a nomadic childhood spent in the Eastern Cape with wonderful evocative sections on the landscape, the people, life as a child, with the shadow of apartheid restrictions on their friendship with the coloureds in the little towns. She adores her father (a complex mix of conman, drinker, trader & preacher), is brought up by her brother, but is much wilder and spontaneous than him. Ironically, towards the end of the book, their roles are reversed – she becomes the care-giver towards her step-brother Arnold and her father. Thomas’ Pt 2 takes us into his tortured soul – he’s tormented by his mother’s abandonment of their family, the fecklessness of his father, his responsibilities towards his kid sister and then her betrayal; his relationships with women, friends, God; his attempted career as a priest …. everything is deeply felt, unacknowledged, and the struggle has twisted him. How Louise, his girlfriend puts up with him, is a mystery. He’s remote, a workaholic, unforgiving, riven by anger that he claims he has left behind – he hasn’t of course, but can’t see it. And of course, despite his impeccable Struggle credentials, he’s abandoned by the New South Africa, when his life’s raison d’etre, an NGO, is swept from under him when the Board insists he be replaced by a Black. A White man, cannot in these new times, head such an organization …. it’s the ultimate cruel irony. Bart’s Pt 3 was quite difficult to read, he’s got Alzheimers and his view of events/people is all mixed up but it’s a short section only a few pages, from which it appears that Thomas manages to stay with Louise who has now borne his child; Miranda is on a visit from London; and brother and sister appear to have reconciled. I’m filled with admiration at the complex structure of the book, the depth of the characters, the subtlety of the book. I wonder why it hasn’t won a prize ? “Richards has an acute sense of place, in it’s small town and big city guises, and a wonderful ear for South African idiom. … Moving subtly between past and present, it casts a searing light on the way we reveal and conceal our truths in stories.” (Ivan Vladislavic) “Few South African writers can capture the complicated magic and cultural confusion of a constantly changing country like JR can … wry, moving and beautifully observed.” (Peter Godwin)

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “RECENT READS # MY BROTHER’S BOOK – Jo-Anne Richards

  1. dg

    wonderful review – makes me want to read the book – i’ll check it out when back in Dec and passing by an Exclusive book store!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. HI Alison your writing captivates me. You have made me want to run to buy the book. It sounds absolutely fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Brenda. Its in the Library system – try Milnerton Library.

    Like

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