Published July 11, 2017 G.P. Putnam’s Sons
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….
There are three things that really drew me to this novel….the cover, especially the colors, the title, and the first sentence of the blurb mentioning The Help. You see, I absolutely loved The Help, so I hit the request button as fast as possible on Netgalley and hoped for the best. I was thrilled to get this the day before it published and I immediately dropped all my other reads and started this one. I have to say, I’ve fallen victim to this marketing ploy before…the “perfect for readers of” one…and I’ve been severely disappointed in the past. I’m happy to say this book completely lived up to the comparison of The Help, although not in a similar plot way, rather in the way it evoked similar feelings in me.
The story is set in 1975-1976 South Africa with the Soweto Uprising as the catalyst that connects the main characters, Robin and Beauty. We’re first introduced to Robin, a precocious 9 year old girl and her parents, all of whom I immediately connected with as their voices were so well developed. I loved how the author set up their family life and really allowed us to get to know them. The dialogue was fantastic and I felt like I was there feeling the heat and the dust near the mines. When tragedy strikes the family and Robin is forced into a completely different life, it broke my heart! I had just gotten to know all of them. What occurs for Robin after this tragedy is the basis for the rest of the story. Especially when she makes a spur of the moment decision later in the story that changes the course of the most important relationship she has left.
Beauty is a mother of two young sons who leaves her rural South African village when her daughter goes missing in Johanessburg during the Soweto Uprising. Her life eventually intersects with Robin’s and how this changes both their lives and whether Beauty ever finds her daughter…well you’ll just have to read to find out but believe me when I say, I was so invested in these characters, especially Beauty, that I couldn’t put this book down until I found out! What I found surprising was the fact that, for me, Beauty’s character stole the novel and she really reminded me of Abileen from The Help. There’s wit, humor, happiness and sadness all wrapped up in a well paced plot. As I said, the author manages to write in such a way that the characters all came to life, even Elvis the parrot, although at times he was over the top.
If it sounds like this was a 5 star read for me, it really would’ve been except for some minor issues I had with Robin’s character and the last couple chapters. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Robin but there were times her character, who’s 9, behaved and spoke like a 5 year old and then other times she seemed to be 16 or older. It seemed a little inconsistent. Now, I can’t really say why the last few chapters gave me pause without spoiling things but I will say that they really tested my ability to suspend disbelief which is ok (it’s fiction I get it) but the level was pretty high. Then, the ending…I’m all kinds of conflicted about it and really need to discuss it! That being said, this would make a great book club pick as there’s lots to discuss as far as character’s actions and the plot. I do highly recommend this and if you do decide to read it feel free to DM me so we can chat about the ending! In the meantime, I’m very much looking forward to Bianca Marais’s next novel.
Many thanks to G. P Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley for my copy, I’m happy to provide an honest review.