London - Cape Town - Joburg by Zukiswa Wanner
Publisher: Kwela Books
Release Date: 2014
Setting: London - Cape Town - Joburg
My Rating: 3 Stars
The world is about to change. The first truly democratic election in South Africa’s history is about to unite Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation at the ballot box. And, across the world, those in exile, those who could not return home, those who would not return home, wait. Watch and wait . . .
Martin O’Malley isn’t one of those watching and waiting. He is too busy trying to figure out if Germaine Spencer really is the girl for him and why his best friend is intent on ruining every relationship he gets involved in. And then . . . And then Germaine is pregnant and suddenly the world really has changed for Martin O’Malley.
A land of opportunity. A place where a young black man with an MSc from the London School of Economics could have it all, would have it all. But what does Martin O’Malley, London born and bred with an Irish surname, really know about his mother’s country? His motherland. A land he has never seen. (Source: Goodreads)
From the second they lay eyes on each other at a night club in London, it was all magic and fireworks. Martin O’Malley and Germaine Spencer fell into a whirlwind romance that did not abate 18yrs on. It was the kind of romance that makes you envious, makes you want to be in a relationship. It was damn near perfect! They are a mixed race couple; Martin a black UK born South African, adopted by an Irish father; and Germaine, the white, smart, confident and artsy English girl. This is the story of their coming together and their falling apart.
It starts with their 13 year old son Zuko having committed suicide on the eve of his 14th birthday. Germaine is broken and angry that he only left a note for Martin and did not care to leave one for her to explain his actions. She was, after all, the one who carried him in her womb for nine months and has been a constant in his life. The prologue of this book is intriguing, it draws you in and sets the tone for the rest of the story. I was dying to find out what happened to this seemingly perfect couple. What could have been so broken, leading to their son taking his own life? When did the chips start falling?
The book is set in 3 cities – London, where Germaine and Martin met and fell in love, Cape Town, where they first lived and tried to get their footing in the new Post-Apartheid South Africa and Joburg, where things begun falling apart. I loved that the book was set against the backdrop of post-apartheid South Africa. The portrayal of race relations, of the economic, social and political changes that were rife at the time was very poignant. I loved how Zukiswa managed to tell the story of a family, breaking, and bring out so many themes while at it.
So what did I not like?
1. The story is too long winded and too drawn out. It also doesn’t help that the conflict is pushed to the last 3 pages. Wanner makes us read 331 pages of a love story and only introduces the conflict in the last 3 pages and as you can already guess, 3 pages is not enough for a conflict and resolution so there is no resolution!
2. The depiction of Martin and Germaine’s marriage felt quite unreal. One of those fairy-tale loves that don’t really exist in real life. They were married for 18 year and the only issue they ever had, save for the 3 pages I have talked about earlier, was Martin taking a brief interest in his PA, Gugu and the re-emergence of his ex-Soraya. How about painting a real picture of marriage? Huh? How about that? It’s usually tumultuous enough when a couple is from the same race and I can only imagine for mixed race relationships – issues are compounded and on macro scales. This did not come out in the book.
3. Germaine was not a likeable character! I found her condescending and entitled and selfish. Her relationship was Priya came off as very one sided and very ‘judgy’. She would only seek out Priya when she wanted to offload on her but then judge every single thing Priya did with her life.
4. I honestly hated the ending. I felt blindsided. Thinking about it now, I see Wanner was alluding to it or trying to build up a case for/against Liam - him losing custody of his kids, his keen interest in Mxolisi and even his attention to Zuko – but I honestly did not see it coming and I didn’t like it.
I equal parts enjoyed this book and equal parts disliked it. What are your thoughts on this book? Let me know. 3/5 Stars