Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais
Perfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.
Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.
After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.
Told through Beauty and Robin’s alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.–Goodreads
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
While this book is based on tragic events, the author did a good job of making it beautiful, too. The novel has more than one main story line to follow, although one is focused on more than the other. If you are familiar with any of the events that this book is centered around in South Africa, then you will probably go into this knowing that some parts of it will be difficult to read. That said, this is an engaging, interesting book with a lot to recommend it.
I felt horrible for what the characters had to go through, but the author was also good at helping the reader retain hope that something might change for them in the future. This book prompted me to learn more about the actual events the book mentions and I found there was a lot that I didn’t know. It’s great when a fiction novel can be so realistic that it makes you feel things on the deepest level, and this book certainly did that for me.
Emotionally moving and thought provoking, this is a book that will stay with you once you finish reading it. I believe this is the kind of book that you will want others to read and would be a great choice to share with reading groups and book clubs. You won’t run out of things to discuss once you finish reading this.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.