Jour­ney to heal­ing

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The Yearn­ing by Mo­hale Mashigo

Pi­cador Africa 187 pages R199 at

‘Some­times I wish Baba was still alive. I loved him be­fore and af­ter he be­came a snake. He al­ways seemed to know the story that lurked be­hind my eyes. ‘You are go­ing to be stuck between green and blue one day, Maru­bini. The past and fu­ture will stalk you. Don’t choose ei­ther of them; al­ways choose to­day.’”

Th­ese words are from Mo­hale Mashigo’s de­but novel, The Yearn­ing, an in­tri­cate tale about Maru­bini, who goes on a jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery.

She is torn between her present-day life as a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive at a pres­ti­gious Cape wine es­tate and her younger days grow­ing up in Soweto.

The font dif­fer­en­ti­ates past from present, mak­ing it easy for read­ers to iden­tify Maru­bini as she is now and as she was then.

The pro­tag­o­nist is pre­sented as a strong-willed, in­de­pen­dent, thir­tysome­thing black woman who ex­pe­ri­enced heart­break at a young age, when her fa­ther passed away.

As the reader is drawn into her life, we learn that he had tran­si­tioned from an or­di­nary man to a tra­di­tional healer, hav­ing heeded his an­ces­tral call­ing. The vic­tim of a cal­lous mur­der, he passed away when Maru­bini – or Rubi, as she is called by her friends – was just eight.

It is while liv­ing in her mod­ern world of dead­lines and mar­ket­ing strate­gies that her cul­tural roots and tra­di­tions start to hold her in thrall un­ex­pect­edly, even af­fect­ing her health.

Rubi finds her­self hav­ing to un­der­take a jour­ney sim­i­lar to the one that her baba once took.

It is a choice that she must ei­ther ac­cept or re­ject.

Rubi is dat­ing res­tau­rant man­ager Pierre, a char­ac­ter who adds cul­tural in­ter­est by his Euro-African roots. Pierre’s calm de­meanour seems to sub­due Rubi, ap­peal­ing to her fiery heart and gen­tle soul.

But as she veers between love and loss, the pain of the past and her hopes for the fu­ture, she is dogged by a need to know ex­actly what lessons the past holds for her.

This is where Mashigo’s writ­ing shines as she con­nects th­ese con­tra­dic­tory themes in­tri­cately, while her use of colour­ful metaphors breathes life into the nar­ra­tive.

One such metaphor is a mem­ory of Rubi’s grand­mother ex­plain­ing the bod­ily changes that young girls ex­pe­ri­ence: “‘A girl is like a seed; just the be­gin­ning stage of some­thing big, some­thing won­der­ful that will af­fect the whole world in ways un­thought of,’ she told me.”

Sim­ply yet evoca­tively ren­dered, this im­age en­ables the reader to feel part of Rubi’s com­ing of age, and it is de­scrip­tions like this that make The Yearn­ing a de­light to read.

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