A messy tribe

CityPress - - Voices - GRETHE KOEN grethe.koen@city­press.co.za

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.

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