BOOK PAGE PICK OF THE WEEK
Author: Rehana Rossouw Publisher: Jacana Media (2017)
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. –