BOOK PAGE PICK OF THE WEEK

Au­thor: Re­hana Ros­souw Pub­lisher: Ja­cana Me­dia (2017)

Afro Voice (Free State) - - FRONT PAGE -

THE year is 1995. Democ­racy in South Africa is still in its in­fancy, racial ten­sions are still high and the Rugby World Cup is knock­ing on the coun­try’s doorstep.

Re­hana Ros­souw’s New Times tells the story of a young jour­nal­ist, Aaliyah Adams, who is caught up in the world of politics while try­ing to nav­i­gate life in Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap, a close-knit com­mu­nity where peo­ple might know a bit too much about one an­other’s lives.

Aaliyah (also known as Ali) lives with her mother and grand­mother. At home, she tries to be a re­spect­ful Mus­lim woman, go­ing to pray­ers at the mosque when­ever she can, dress­ing mod­estly and cov­er­ing her hair and help­ing out at home.

How­ever, be­ing the sole bread­win­ner takes its toll on the 26-year-old woman.

Af­ter a few months of be­ing un­em­ployed, Ali starts a new job at The New Times.

She is one of the few non-white staff mem­bers at this “pro­gres­sive news­pa­per”.

The New Times is a big change for Ali. She has to fight her su­pe­ri­ors for them to take her se­ri­ously and to get her sto­ries on the pages where she be­lieves they be­long.

She also has an “in” with the new pres­i­dent. Or at least, she has close friends who works in the Pres­i­dency di­rectly with pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela.

With her steely de­ter­mi­na­tion and will­ing­ness to ask those in power tough ques­tions, her sto­ries make the front page.

De­spite be­ing young, she was at the fore­front of doc­u­ment­ing the coun­try’s fight for democ­racy. Battered and bruised, the mem­o­ries of the vi­o­lence she wit­nessed dur­ing those crit­i­cal years still haunts her.

The guilt eats away at her but she is de­ter­mined to stay on her feet and make a dif­fer­ence.

On the home front, she is try­ing to work through her feel­ings for best friend Su­maya.

De­spite be­ing two years younger, Su­maya had taken the lead and coaxed Ali into a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship.

The re­la­tion­ship didn’t last long but Ali had fallen in love – and stayed in love.

For Su­maya, it seems that was only a bit of sex­ual ex­plo­ration. She later found a boyfriend whom she is plan­ning her wed­ding to.

In their com­mu­nity, while be­ing gay is slightly more ac­cept­able, be­ing les­bian is out of the ques­tion.

There­fore Ali needs to hide this part of her­self and pre­tend to be happy for Su­maya’s im­pend­ing mar­riage.

The book deals with heavy is­sues like nav­i­gat­ing racial re­la­tions, cre­at­ing a strat­egy for deal­ing with the HIV-Aids cri­sis and cor­rup­tion in govern­ment – all is­sues which are still largely rel­e­vant to­day.

New Times also has its light mo­ments with its tales of fam­ily, love and friend­ship.

It doesn’t have a typ­i­cal happy end­ing, but it leaves you with the hope that these char­ac­ters will even­tu­ally find their own kind of ful­fil­ment in life. –

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