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Hum If You Don’t Know The Words
“Life under apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl growing up in a mining town in the 1970s Johannesburg. In a rural village, worlds apart, Beauty Mbali struggles to raise her children alone in the blacks-only Bantustan of the Transkei. Their lives are divided by the colors of their skin, and their paths should never have crossed…until the historic Soweto uprising, where government forces violently crush a protest by black students, igniting reprisals on both sides. Their worlds shatter in the aftermath when Robin’s parents are found dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing. After Robin is sent to live with her irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin, and, for the first time in her sheltered existence, Robin learns about life beyond the white, upper-class privilege she has always known, discovering in Beauty the love and support she desperately craves. While Beauty’s frantic search for her beloved activist daughter puts her in contact with whites and blacks secretly combatting apartheid, her growing responsibility and affection for Robin, whose loss mirrors her own, forces painful choices on them both. When it becomes clear that Beauty could be lost to Robin forever if Beauty’s daughter is found, Robin makes a risky decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery that brings to light the harsh truths and injustices of a society she thought she knew.”
Growing up as a white girl in the United States hasn’t always been easy, and my parents, and now my husband and I, have worked very hard to get where we are. After reading this book, however, I realize that I’ve definitely lived a sheltered and fairly easy life. My eyes were opened while reading this book. I’ve learned about apartheid in school, but I had no idea that things like the Soweto uprising occurred. I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. The writing draws you in and captivates you. Ms. Marais’ descriptions and writing style are very well done. To be drawn into this time and place, and to be a part of such a difficult and harsh period in South Africa’s history, is surreal. The emotion seeps from the pages. Beauty is a difficult character to understand; she leaves her sons alone in order to go find her daughter. She thinks this journey will be a quick one. When it’s not, she doesn’t give up. Her sons are being taken care of by the community at home while she continues to search for her daughter. I love her determination and love for her child. Robin is just a child, but she and Beauty are bound together by the grief they share following the uprising. I had to keep reminding myself that Robin was just a child; she made some choices that, as an adult, made me scream at her through the pages. How could she be so selfish? Thankfully, she realizes her mistake and tries her best to fix it. The growth of both of these characters throughout the book is amazing to watch. It’s unthinkable the atrocities that occur around the world today, and those that have occurred in the past, and it’s when we step out of our own worlds, our own boxes, and truly see around us that we can begin to make things right. I loved that this book took me out of my comfort zone. I loved the lessons learned. This book is very well written. The characters come to life on the page, and you feel like you are there, living the story along with them. There are so many lessons to be learned in this book. We are all the same. We may look different, come from different places, speak different languages, have different experiences, but we are all the same. We just want to live, provide for our families, be loved, and be safe. Selfishness may seem ok when we rationalize it, but it can cause so much pain and heartbreak. Doing what we know is right, even when it is difficult. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it.
Rating: PG-13+ (There is a little bit of profanity, but not much. There is no “intimacy,” but there is violence. The Soweto uprising was difficult to read because of how many children were killed or injured. There was a character beaten almost to death, and there was also some domestic violence.)
Recommendation: 16 years-old and up. This book is not appropriate for younger readers.
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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