Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin, a ten-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation, but worlds apart, Beauty, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children after her husband's death. Told through Beauty and Robin's alternating perspectives, the narratives interweave to create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid South Africa. Hum If You Don't Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.
"The Soweto uprising of 1976, which left an indelible mark on South African society, frames Marais' soulful debut. The narrative alternates between two voices: nine-year-old Robin Conrad, who, until she loses her parents in the unrest, enjoys a happy childhood in the suburbs of Johannesburg; and Beauty Mbali, an educated black woman who leaves her village in the Bantu countryside and two children in the care of elders to find her daughter, Nomsa, in the bowels of Soweto. Nomsa has allegedly gone to Soweto to study, but as Beauty finds out, she is gradually swept up in the seismic political shifts that spread across the country. The characters' voices ring true to their personal histories, and the tentative bond that develops between Beauty and Robin is tenderly, sometimes too cloyingly, rendered, keeping in mind the complexities and the historical baggage of black-white interaction in apartheid South Africa. If Marais' novel feels a little bloated at times, it is nevertheless an engaging portrayal of two ordinary citizens swept up by the tidal wave of history.--Apte, Poornima Copyright 2017 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"Nine-year-old Robin loves detective stories. So when the police arrive the night her parents are killed, she mistakenly believes she is now part of her favorite radio series. It's a harsh awakening for her to realize that South Africa in the 1970s is a place far more violent than those stories. With her parents gone, Robin's aunt puts her in the care of a Xhosa nanny, Beauty, a woman with her own tragic secrets: Beauty has vowed to stay in Johannesburg as long as it takes to find her daughter, Nomsa, who has disappeared after a student protest ends in bloodshed. However, as the days stretch into months, Beauty finds herself growing increasingly attached to the motherless white child she is being paid to raise. Likewise Robin grows to love Beauty, despite knowing her dead parents would disapprove of her close relationship with the black woman. In this standout debut Marais handles topics such as grief and racism with a delicate intensity that will make readers fall in love with her characters. From the first few heartfelt chapters to a fast-paced and heart-wrenching ending, Marais has created a stunning historical drama that shouldn't be missed. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved