Spilt Milk by Kopano Matlwa
Publisher: Jacana Media
Release Date: 2010
Setting: South Africa
My Rating: 3 Stars ***
Spilt milk is the story of two passionate people who share a shameful past and a shaky present. Decades after a childhood love affair earns upright school principal Mohumagadi and a disgraced preacher Father Bill expulsion from their communities, the two characters are brought back together under the most unlikely of circumstances. Mohumagadi, headmistress of the elite Sekolo sa Ditlhora school for talented black children, takes in Father Bill as a teacher, much to the dismay of her students and faculty. Thus begins a battle of wills amd wits for the hearts and minds of the students living in the shadow of revolution and change. (Source: Book Blurb)
Headmistress Mohumagadi is determined to turn her school into one of the best in the country – all her students are bright, disciplined, talented and they all come from wealthy families. The crème de la crème of South African society. These are the children who will change the nation. They have been raised to believe in black pride and they hold the keys to the future of South Africa. When four of the pupils are caught in an indecent, compromising situation, the school, which is the epitome of discipline, is brought to shame. Their punishment - attending detention classes for 3 months.
On the other hand, Father Bill, a White Catholic priest, has also fallen from grace due to his repeated sexual indiscretions. He is reassigned from conducting Mass to Mohumagadi’s school as a substitute teacher. Unknown to many is that the two had a relationship that broke down 15yrs ago and changed the course of their lives, a fact they will not admit to themselves or anyone else. They are both happy to pretend it never happened.
When Father Bill starts at the school, he is assigned to the detention class and here begins his mostly awkward interactions with the pupils. The children resent the fact that this is a white man – they have been raised to believe in the separation of the races and that the white man is evil, whose only intention is to put the black man down. It doesn’t also help that this priest is one with questionable morals. The children put up a strong resistance, however, with time, each of their walls are broken down. There’s a tragic ending.
This book is set in the backdrop of Apartheid, South Africa and through the children, we get to see how values – good and bad- were inculcated in children in the wake of the revolution. Of parents who were too busy living their own lives, pawning off raising of their children to schools and through their journeys of self-discovery we learn about their personal struggles. I must say however that the children’s reasoning seemed a bit too advanced for 10 year olds. Not sure if I am the one who is out of touch or if that is the way 10 year olds think! I need to find me some 10 year old friends.
"The perilous thing about being the victim is that you are never forced to hold the mirror up to yourself. No one ever asks you to evaluate you actions, your motives, your intent, and so you continue on with no points checked and no questions asked."
I loved Father Bill’s diary entries to God complaining about how miserable and full of shit the children were. It made me squirm and quite uncomfortable reading about this Priest’s sexual escapades and not-so-holy thoughts and although I appreciate the fact that he was a flawed man, also trying to find his way in a new South Africa, did the author have to make him a priest? Why not an Engineer or a mechanic? Or a nurse? I am not turning a blind eye to what priests have repeatedly being accused of doing behind closed doors, but as a Catholic, I found it quite offensive.
This is a fun, simple book that will keep you turning pages to the end.