11 February 2011

Those Who Love Night (Wessel Ebersohn)

Available on www.kalahari.net.

Let me start by saying that this was not an easy book for me to read…

The Witness review on the jacket of Wessel Ebersohn’s Those Who Love Night suggests that it ‘will be gobbled down by even the most jaded reader’. Guess what? I’m the most jaded reader. I’m not typically a fan of local fiction. I’m usually unenthusiastic about stories of African political tragedy. And I’m largely disparaging of crime thrillers set in Zimbabwe. But I couldn’t lower this book.

For starters, I should admit that I’m seven months pregnant. And in the opening scene, Janice Makumbe, who is eight months pregnant, flees into the bush in the dead of night, to save herself and her two small children from the soldiers of the Five Brigade during Zimbabwe’s brutal Gukurahundi Massacres of the 1980s.

She doesn’t make it. (From there, you can imagine my morbid fascination.)

Abigail Bukula is the talented South African lawyer who is asked to travel to Zim to defend activist Tony Makumbe – Janice’s surviving son and Abigail’s cousin – one of seven detained at the notorious Chikurubi Prison. And when she and oddball Jewish psychologist, Yudel Gordon, arrive, what they find is a messy web of murder, corruption, secrets, lies and political charades. Against the backdrop of a ravaged country that is hanging onto some of the traces of its former beauty. And interspersed with a cast of Zim locals who are alternately charming and chilling.

That’s all I’m going to give you on the storyline front, because I believe that this particular book deserves to be read without too much context or background.

But I will say that Wessel Ebersohn is a gifted writer – able to adopt convincingly the voices, nuances and personalities of his characters; able to pen colourful sketches of locations and interactions; and able, in a way that is unusual for South African writers, to distance himself sufficiently from ‘our’ closeness to Zimbabwe to give it representation that is simultaneously objective and deeply touching.

(I intend to read his other books, even though they’re local. Don’t tell anyone.)

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