Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: book reviews

Period Pain

I am reading South African writing at the moment and have just finished Kopano Matlwa‘s Period Pain.

I can’t remember being that unsettled by a book, ever, really. It takes the form of secret journal posts, some confessional, some describing events, some reflecting back on the past, and some even prayers and admonitions to god by a black, female medical doctor.

It is in turns hilarious, gross, shocking, unbearably sad, jarring, ugly, beautiful and mad. It is our country in one person, and one person who barely survives our country.

Conflicting and fluctuating attitudes about religion, education, family, xenophobia, white mistrust, and what it is like to be a woman are all turned over, examined, shaken about, discarded, picked up again and examined for wounds.

It is a devastating read, made more bleak because every word could be true and these things happen to people here every day.

And yet the writing is mad, quirky, urgent, poetic, totally original and compelling. I haven’t ever read anything like it.

It is a must read book. Must.

The Woman Next Door

I have broken a reading dry spell by devouring The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso in just under a week.

This extraordinary novel is set in a terribly familiar Cape Town, but its angle on the issues of land restitution, racism, culture and aging are so original and thought provoking I will never think about these things in the old way again.

The protagonists are two old ladies, next door neighbours, who live in a sheltered, gated community in Constantia. They hate each other vehemently, but are forced, by circumstances both beyond and in their control to negotiate a relationship.

Through their backstories we get to know each of them and their secrets, lies, and special shames, and then they are brought forward and thrown together, exposing their relationship to a post-Apartheid Cape Town that challenges them in different ways.

I think that there is something so brave in choosing two eighty year olds to be the leads in a story. It is a high risk that pays off though. I was drawn into Hortensia’s stuck ways, and grumpy oldness from the beginning. Marion was also deeply familiar to me, with her broken Jewish background and dysfunctional family.

Mostly, what hooked me and kept me attached to every page, paragraph, sentence and word was Omotoso’s writing. It is beautiful, simple, direct, haunting, deliberate, light, clever, funny and achingly moving.

It is a book that will stay with me for a long time, and I will turn the words and ideas, about loss, and love, and being a stranger, over and over in my mind and heart.

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