Hum if you don’t know the words
by Bianca Marais
PR9199.4.M3414 H86 2017
New Arrivals Island, 2nd floor
There are so many levels of “not knowing” in this book, and it all combines to make a heartbreaking and funny and very satisfying book. The girl child, Robin, not knowing how to deal with her parents’ death, or why her black caretaker’s experience with the South African gold mines is so different from her own, or how her self-centered decisions will echo down into others’ lives, or how love and joy will eventually come back to her from the most unexpected sources, if she lets it. The woman, Beauty, in the agony of not knowing what is happening to her own daughter, and not knowing if she can reconcile that eventual knowledge with her own ideals about how to address the apartheid regime. Many of the adults have little to no knowledge of the secret internal life of Robin as well as some other kids in the book (which led to some of the most humorous scenes, in my opinion).
For me, this was also a very compelling personal story to introduce me to a historical time period that I knew very little about prior to this reading – the Soweto Uprising of June 1976.
The narrative alternating between Robin and Beauty makes this a more interesting and multifaceted read, and all the supporting characters are well-rounded and enrich the story. I was happy to read recently that Marais is planning a followup novel with the same characters. Highly recommended.