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.
Kathryn- 5 Star
A novel told in two voices that come together to make one story- I found the book sometimes intense and sometimes agonising because I truly sometimes cannot believe the things people are capable of doing to each other- if only we all were equipped with empathy…
Beauty is drawn to look for her teenage daughter who had been living with her brother in Soweto and appears to have gone missing during the student uprising. She leaves behind her younger children and makes the long journey into a city in which she feels ill at ease. Beauty’s voice is that of a teacher, measured and consistent, calm and intelligent. I connected with her as a mother immediately and could feel her frustration at the hurdles she faced just seeping off the pages.
The other perspective comes from 9 year old Robin who is white and English and whose parents are murdered during the uprising at an unrelated event. The one person who can care for her is her aunt and though they both like each other the aunt isn’t really ready to become a parent and Robin finds herself in the care of Beauty. I found Robin’s passages to be very well issued- she’s a child and her world has fallen apart. Her sense of abandonment is overwhelming and I found Marais gave her enough time to explore this life change, it wasn’t rushed. I also like that her innocence brought us back to reality, her choice to keep something hidden later in the novel was a decision made by someone so young that you were forced to be reminded of how little of the world she knew.
Beauty’s searching brought out many aspects of apartheid South Africa in a subtle and matter of fact way that were natural to the exploration of the plot of the novel. And yet, they were no less poignant. Her ability to weave story and reality was very well done. I am certainly putting Bianca Marais on my to-watch list.
Thank you to Penguin Group for our review copy. All opinions are our own.
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