The Battosai™ discusses Tradition and Modernity in Mohale Mashigo’s the Yearning

This book is the story of a young, successful woman who is living the dream- a secure job in a prestigious winery, great friends, a caring boyfriend and very close-knit family members.  All is well until her past threatens to usurp her present. A past she doesn’t even remember clearly.

For a debut novel, the book is an interesting read, a fine marriage between modernity and tradition. The themes are easy to identify as they feature in the everyday life of the average human being, the major ones being Family/Blood Ties, bravery and Courage, Love, Friendship, Ancestral Worship, Grief among other minor ones.

On their part, the characters are robust, well developed and unique in their own funny ways. The tone of the novel is light and delightful- an attention-grabbing page turner. I also liked the way the author named some of the chapters, playing on the words of a popular prayer- the Name, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and Amen- all very symbolic to the plot of the novel.

The narrative is straightforward. The transition between the protagonists’s present and her flashes of the past are seamless, creating a fluid reading pleasure that keeps the reader turning the pages, curious to know what happens next.

I also appreciate the fact that the author’s descriptions are done in a manner that each reader can easily picture- not explicit but at the same time, graphic; the sex scene between Pierre and Marubini for example-

There is a visitor making her way to me, and I can’t wait. She packs her bags at my stomach and slowly slides down to where she knows she needs to be………………..we climb and descend. The visitor leaves and I close my eyes, drenched in now”.

However, I found some low points in the book;

  1. For me, the vernacular was a tad too distracting. I had to skip all those places where Marubini spoke her native dialects. Styles like this one will only make lazy readers lazier.
  1. The protagonist and the eventual resolution of her conflicts were quite predictable. Before I finished the book, I knew she was going to get answers to all her questions, howbeit spiritual. I also knew that she would marry Pierre. Somehow, I guessed that there would be an epilogue (of sorts) involving a child between the couple (I guess I’ve read one too many Silhouette novels). The author could have given the story a nice twist- like Marubini losing Pierre to someone else (not necessarily Natalie) and eventually ending up with Dr. Duma for instance, or older Thabo.
  1. Also I initially thought that the yearning, as suggested by the title, would be for a strong spiritual desire and calling to practice her father’s art- becoming a Sangoma, and not just a longing to unravel mysteries of the past. That is quite cliché.
  1. Considering the history of native South Africans and their deep rooted culture in religious practices such as witchcraft and spiritual healing, this book kind of falls into the category of ‘just another South African’ novel- if it’s not written about the apartheid, it would ‘almost always’ be about….
  1. For me, the book ended abruptly. Like the author suddenly lost her muse. As appealing as the story was, the ending didn’t quite make it for me. I thought Marubini was going to exploit her spirituality further. We also ought to have been given a deeper view into Simphiwe’s gift. But then the author knows better.

Overall, if I’m to rate this book over 10; I’d rate it a 7/10. It’s a very stimulating read.

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