A messy tribe
Tribe by Rahla Xenopoulos Published by Umuzi 309 pages R198
Local author Rahla Xenopoulos’ latest novel, Tribe, arrived at our offices in a stylish gift bag with a recommendation from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, who calls the book “the Less Than Zero of 2015”. True to form, the novel follows a group of very beautiful, very privileged people who spend their glittering twentysomething lives raving and taking drugs in Ibiza. During this time, they form an aggressively insular group they call The Tribe.
There is Olivia, the consummate blonde and glamour-girl writer from London; Benjy, her dashing and smitten boyfriend; Tselane, a black South African who went into exile in England during her childhood and now feels no connection to her roots; Jude, a sensitive hippie sort who plays acoustic guitar; Pierre, a South African surfer; and his older brother, Hannes, a down-to-earth Afrikaner.
Amid the drugs, love and seemingly endless youth, the group fails to notice one of them falling by the wayside. Jude ends up overdosing and his wife, Tselane, decides to cut ties with the group for Jude’s safety. Twelve years later, he tries to kill himself.
In a desperate bid to save Jude, Olivia arranges for the scattered group to reconnect on Hannes’ game farm, hoping that The Tribe can pull Jude out of his depression.
As the characters, now all grown up, unveil their inner workings and come to terms with what happened, Xenopoulos’ themes come to light: connectivity, privilege, inequality, friendship, freedom, conservation and success.
With so much going on, it is sometimes unclear what the main thread of the book is, and some characters get lost as others jostle for space. I particularly disliked secondary character Katrina, Hannes’ daughter, who seems to be nothing more than a teenage caricature: surly, rebellious and always dressed in black.
Constantly reading about how spectacular and “glittering” and “warm” and fantastic The Tribe’s people are also became a little tiring.
Despite this, I appreciated Xenopoulos’ prose – lyrical but unpretentious – and the dialogue between her characters was where the book shone.
Tribe will resonate with the generation of fortysomethings who spent their 20s listening to Faithless’ Insomnia in rave clubs and experimenting with ecstasy. The generation that, despite a youth under apartheid, rejected not only the system’s racial injustices, but rebelled against its censorship of music and culture.
The novel will resonate with anyone who has ever had a group of friends they thought of as family.