Oral Tales Written and Human Lives Easily Broken

As much as I love the literature of our United States and its writers, I’ve slowly come to appreciate fine writing from other countries. While much of such writing is influenced by U.S. writers, there’s still much to learn from these bits of “foreign” fiction and nonfiction, the uniqueness of these writers’ lives, their stylistic originality, and the commonness of experience is places faraway and nearby. So for the next few weeks I’ll focus on writing coming from faraway lands.




Black Diamond, by Zakes Mda

Before the written word, stories were passed on orally, something enjoying a minor comeback these days. And in Black Diamond, Zakes Mda has his story’s narrator mimic this ancient mode of storytelling. If you’re a reader committed to the modern techniques of the novel, much of what you read here may very well grate. Still, there’s Mda’s story, which is at least as engaging as the most popular genre fiction of today. The difference, though, is that this book also informs readers of post-apartheid life in South Africa. So what is Mda’s story?

Don Mateza, a former black revolutionary and now an up and coming member of security firm, is in a flawed romantic liaison with Tumi, an ambitious owner of a modeling agency. Don is given the job of protecting a white magistrate, Kristin Uys, who has sent Stevo Visagie, a member of a tough but minor crime family to prison. Stevo’s family threatens Kristin, and it’s Don’s job to balance his professional duties to the magistrate against his decaying involvement with Tumi. I hesitate to go on with the story at this point; I might be accused of revealing too much. Suffice it to say that Mda handles the intertwined fates of the Visagie family, Don, Kristin, and Tumi quite well.

The title, by the way, is a term for a member of the increasingly affluent black middle class in South Africa. Mda does himself proud in his depictions of post-apartheid life in the former black community of Soweto, the lives of black South Africans living respectable middle class lives and others still living on the perimeter of that society, the slow emergence of blacks and whites finding ways to live and work together. I’m one who isn’t enthralled with Mda’s choice of voice and narrative style, but the book’s content makes it a worthy read.
My rating: 15 of 20 stars



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