Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

Hum If You Don't Know the Words

Bianca Marais

Hum If You Don't Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

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Perfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a ten-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred...until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty and Robin's alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum If You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

Advance Galley Reviews

"I didn't have the words then to articulate what I was feeling,  but on some level I'd understood that tears are neither black nor white;  they are the quicksilver of our emotional turmoil and their salt flavors our pain equally." ~ Hum if You Don't Know the Words, Bianca Marais If you are like me, when you see a new book everywhere, one of two things might happen, you rush out to get it and are disappointed, or you wait just a bit and the book lives up to what you've heard. In the case of Hum if You Don't Know the Words, I am pleasantly surprised. I received an ARC from @netgalley in exchange for an honest review and I admit other books got in my way for a while. (Is that not the problem of every book lover everywhere?) But when I picked this book up, it commanded my complete attention as I saw through the eyes of Robin and Beauty the devastating effects of apartheid in South Africa.  Among the sadness and heatbreak, emerge a friendship  based on what a person is and not what a person looks like. “Good people come in all different colors and speak many different languages,  bad people too.  And sometimes good people do bad things,  and sometimes bad things are the only things people know how to do because they do not know any better.  One day you will see that for yourself." (Hum if You Don't Know the Words)

A good book with excellent plot line and beautiful characters.

A mother wonders how to keep her daughter safe. A daughter wonders if, with her parents gone, safety is ever possible. Beauty and Robin - a woman and a girl - find their lives forever altered in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Told through their alternating perspectives, Hum if You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais is a moving and touching story that highlights the point once again that in a conflict, innocent victims exist on all sides. Read my complete review at Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

"Hum if You Don't Know the Words" is a great novel set in apartheid era South Africa. The narration alternates between a 10 year old white girl, Robin, and a black matriarch, Beauty. Midway through the work, their lives intertwine and become important to each other as they struggle with loss and life. Each story is well written, although there are times Robin's chapters seem more like adult memory than a child's point of view. Thoroughly enjoyable and a lovely novel. 1 like

I completely loved this book. This dealt with themes such as apartheid/racism, loss, love. The two main characters, Beauty Mbali and Robin Conrad - they were both wonderful and strong ladies. The ending made me feel like we may get a sequel. I hope to read more with these characters. Bianca Marais is a new author to me but I would gladly read any of her novels. She has a writing style that is beautiful and keeps the audience tuned in.

Unable to review. My download expired, though the review isn't due for another seven days.

"Night settles swiftly. If you are vigilant, and not prone to distractions, you can almost feel the very moment daylight slips through your fingers and leaves you clutching the inky sap that is the sub-Saharan night. It is a sharp exhalation at the closing of day, a sigh of relief." That is South Africa. Unfortunately, South Africa could also be described during Apartheid as: "There is a river of blood in the street and the children are floating in it. They lie in unnatural shapes, limbs bent at awkward angles. Some of them are face-down, drowning, while others lie on their backs gazing up at the sky; they are human debris swept along in a flood of distraction." This was a moving story told from the alternating points of view of two South Africans in 1976/7 who were trying to maintain their families. Robin Conrad was a nine year old white girl whose parents were killed in Boksburg, Johannesburg, South Africa by some black men after a peaceful student demonstration turned into a riot. Robin was taken in by her aunt Edith who was her only relative. Edith was a flight attendant who did not easily give up her child-free life. Beauty Mbali was a black 49 year old teacher who had to leave her two young sons, Luxolo and Khwezi, behind to try to rescue her teenaged daughter, Nomsa, in Johannesburg where she had gone to be educated in Soweto. Nomsa disappeared after the riots and Beauty refused to go home until she found her. Beauty didn't have permission to be in Johannesburg and didn't have the proper identity papers, so she needed to find work taking care of Robin while Edith traveled. I liked learning a little about life in South Africa during Apartheid. The Afrikaners had not gotten over losing the Boer War to the British, who had imprisoned Afrikaners in concentration camps. The British and Afrikaners may not have liked each other very much, but they were united in their hatred of blacks, Jews and homosexuals. As Robin spent time with Edith and Beauty she learned that blacks, Jews and homosexuals are actually human beings too, which seems to have been a difficult concept for most South Africans. The chapters from the point of view of Beauty seemed slightly more realistic as she risked her life to relentlessly search for her daughter and at the same time developed a loving relationship with Robin. The Robin chapters were most believable when they dealt with her grief, loneliness, fears and love of Beauty. They were less believable when she turned into a miniature Nancy Drew and carried out her own investigations. Overall however, I really liked these characters, so much so that I want to know what happened to them after the book ended. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Bianca Marais has created one of the most beautiful stories I have read this year. Her book, "Hum If You Don't Know the Words" is heart-breaking and hopeful at the same time. The writing is descriptive and honest, clearly illustrating the cruelty and ugliness of racial segregation as well as the kindness and redemption of making a choice to forgive. Her characters and their relationships are well formed and relatable. The pacing of the story is steady and includes many details that connect events throughout. At no point did I feel that a description was pointless or confusing; it all connected to create a complete and powerful story. I highly recommend Marais's novel.

Hum if you don't know the words is an emotional story set in South Africa during the 1970s. The story is told from two different perspectives. One main character is Beauty, a Xhosa woman, and the other is a ten year old white girl named Robin. Although people look at them and see their differences they have a lot in common. This book takes a hard look at racism, love, loss, and what makes a family. It gives you an in depth look at prejudice against everyone. This story is full of tragedy, but it is also full of love. Both of these main characters have been through tragedy, but they persevere. No matter what happens they keep pushing on, and it is endearing. This book shows you that you never know what people are going through. You never know how people are inside. It definitely says don't judge a book by its cover. I was rooting for them. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to read this book. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone. It is an amazing story

A well written, sad and balanced tale about two different sides experiencing the fallout of the Soweto Uprisings. I enjoyed this book but had a few questions upon completing it. 1 - the ending geeks unfinished. There is some resolution buta lot feels unsaid, which can be fine, but for a throwaway line about 'how much our stories so hear to come.' Not every story should end nearly with a now but this felt like either a copout or a 'to be continued' which belongs in comic books, not good literature. 2 - the Soweto Uprisings feels like they get the short shrift here. The characters involved seem to be portrayed as shady or misguided at times and it feels like a disservice to a very important time in SAN history. I wish I cos associate it better but it feels looked down on

I'm sorry but I was unable to review this book because the download failed. Very disappointed because I was looking forward to it.

I really liked this book and I plan on rereading it sometime next year. The writing was well done and graceful, the characters were unique and rich, and the story itself was moving and powerful. This book was published at a time when we need it the most and it reminds us that we've come a long way and still have a long way to go. Read this. you won't regret it.

"Hum if you don't know the words" aka: fake it until you make it. Robin, 9 years old in mid-1970's South Africa, faking it means not letting the murder of her parents and abandonment of her family maid get to her. For Beauty, an educated mother whose daughter goes missing during the Soweto Uprising (an actual event), it means letting herself be placed in the position of a maid to allow her to remain somewhat hidden in society while she searches for her daughter. The book obviously deals with racism and apartheid but is able to bring a personal and human touch to the subject. Robin has never known a world without separation. She was raised knowing that blacks were inferior and that whites were superior. Her family and household perpetrated racism on a daily basis. But after Beauty is hired to care for Robin, the girl starts to realize that it isn't the color of a person's skin that makes them good or bad: "....on some level I'd understood that tears are neither black nor white, they are the quicksilver of our emotional turmoil and their salt flavors our pain equally." (And, yes, the book is chuck full of that type of beautiful imagery.) While the story is told in alternating points of view, Robin's is the stronger of the two. This makes sense as she is younger and her beliefs are changing and developing through the course of the story. The story is her coming of age with Beauty's story as a supporting storyline and catalyst for Robin's own internal crisis.

I had to sit with Hum If You Don't Know The Words for a week after finishing before I could articulate my thoughts. Trying to navigate the tension and sheer exhaustion I felt at the book's content nearly caused me to abandon this book in the first few chapters. There was something that made me uncomfortable, but it took a while to understand what that was. Set in the midst of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, Marais weaves us in and out of a series of events through the eyes of a young white South African girl and a middle-aged black South African woman. There is no way to get around the complex issues of race and class that are of paramount importance in this book. That subject matter can be heavy, and I was not frankly interested in reading the overly accurate and naive thoughts of a white South African child who had been taught that her black caregiver was too dirty and germ-ridden to use the same dishes as she used. I think Marais' handing of these issues are what caused me the most discomfort - because she doesn't really get into the complexities of race issues in Apartheid South Africa. It felt a bit trite to continue to present stories from this worldview from a surface level without providing any nuance or deeper exploration of these issues. Something about the book continuously felt disingenuous. I also found the young character Robin insufferable at times. None of this makes it a bad book. I don't know that books have the responsibility to make us feel good or even deal with characters and stories in a way the reader thinks is preferable. That said, the story was compelling enough for me to continue reading. What really bothered me was that the book seemed to move at a purposeful pace until the climax and concluding events - which felt completely unrealistic and rushed as presented. It was like we spent 400 pages building up a story that somehow found a resolution in an unlikely manner in a matter of paragraphs. A week later, I still don't know how I feel about this book. I can't shake the story or the characters so perhaps Marais accomplished just what she should have as an author. To draw her readers into a compelling story no matter how uncomfortable we feel about the character or subject matter as she paints them.

I didn't expect to love this book, but I totally did! The characters will stay with me for a long time, and I'm sure this will end up being one of my favorite reads of 207.

This was such a beautiful book. Alternating between Beauty, a Xhosa woman looking for her daughter, and Robin, a young white girl who's recently been orphaned, Hum If You Don't Know the Words tells the story of two women coming together Apartheid in Johannesburg. Both Robin and Beauty have faced terrible losses, but they are both determined, brave women who love fiercely. Initially, Robin has been indoctrinated by her parents' beliefs to think that she is above black people. These beliefs soon change as her story becomes intertwined with Beauty, who teaches her love, acceptance, and accountability. Although there are some very dark moments in the book, what shines through is the character development and the relationship that these two characters come to share. So far, this is my favorite book that I've gotten through First to Read!

Absolutely beautiful, I can't describe how heartwarming, heartbreaking and lovely was this book.

Heartbreaking and tragic. It will be a long, long time before this book leaves me. I went into this book a little blind. As my TBR piled up, I simply made a list of which reviews were due and dove in. The title didn't reveal much so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What I got was an incredible story about love and the resilience of life. I will admit that I probably would have been intimidated at the prospect of reading a book about Apartheid South Africa. This is a heavy subject matter. And it shouldn't be trivialized or glamorized. Perhaps the uncertainty of reading a book about a time and a place I don't know much about would have scared me, made me reach for something a little more in my comfort zone. But I am so glad I didn't. This book is overwhelming in its beauty. This book alternates between the narrative of Robin, a young white girl living in a Johannesburg South Africa in the 1970's, and of Beauty, an Xhosa woman desperate to find her daughter after she has gone missing after an uprising. Robin's parents are killed the same night Beauty's daughter goes missing, leaving her in the care of her well-intentioned aunt. Edith never wanted children and can't fathom changing her glamorous career as an international air stewardess to care for a child. Beauty's desire to stay in Johannesburg and search for her daughter coincides with Edith's need for a caregiver, bringing Robin and Beauty together. The most heartbreaking thing about this novel is how it deals with racism. Systemic, inherent racism where children are taught to hate another group of people simply for the color of their skin. It is hard to read. And heartbreaking because simple observations through the eyes of a child show how hate is taught, how it is learned. "If people didn't come in the right colors, how would we know who to be scared of?" Both Beauty and Robin make such profound observations about life, and love, and power, so frequently they are shocking in their simplicity. Marais has an extraordinary talent in her ability to weave these thoughts together in a soft and subtle way. But like water, they are only soft and subtle in the right order. They can also be as hard and unmoving as a wall, hitting you with blunt force instead of washing over and around you. Beauty becomes a mother and grandmother to Robin, intertwined in a complicated relationship. She must keep many things about their relationship and living arrangements a secret, which is a large burden for an already burdened 9 year old. Both Beauty and Robin find solace with each other, and love with each other. Any book in which topics as hard, and heavy, and unbearable, such as racism, in my opinion, are heartbreaking. It's difficult to read about atrocious crimes, and hideous words, and odious actions. They aren't easy. I think the brilliance of this book is in alternating the experience of Beauty, with her lifetime of living directly with these injustices, and Robin, a child being taught (unknowingly) to be the oppressor. Robin repeats what she has been taught, stating hypocrisy or even outright hatred without thought. It is only when Beauty begins to question her beliefs, has her think about the reasoning or logic behind what she thinks she believes and what she has personally experienced, that Robin begins to decide who she wants to be. Beauty unroots the seeds that have been planted in Robin's mind, and allows new ones to grow in their place. Edith, in her own way also helps to unroot these ideas in Robin's mind simply by who she is. She has homosexual friends and doesn't agree with segregation. She isn't outright rebellious, but is still defiant in her refusal to conform. In some ways, this extends to how she cares for Robin. She loves her, but simply cannot change who she is because of what people think. I loved how Marais used the invisibility of children to highlight what we say as adults and what we do in a way that both highlights the absurd and confusing nature of adults, and society at large. Children don't know why we behave in certain societal norms, but they accept these norms anyway. Many of the things Robin says are funny, but also serve to show how much children listen, even if they do not understand. "Children are invisible because we're thought to be powerless, so people say things in front of me here that they wouldn't say otherwise." This book is a complex look at the relationships we have with children. Whether our own, or us as children, we are shaped by who we are surrounded by. We can become good, or bad. Violent, or peaceful. Angry, or loving. All because of who shapes us. Our nature is to love. But love is often misunderstood, or manipulated, or changed. We carve it and need it so much, that our fear of losing it often keeps it from us. "I wanted to find the words to express that I thought I was coming close to understanding the nature of love; that love can't be held captive, and it can't be bestowed by a prisoner on their captor, even if the prisoner is in a glass cage and oblivious to its captivity." This book is about love. Love of a mother and daughter. Love of an aunt and niece. And love between two strangers, brought together because of tragedy. "I am learning how love wells up and causes great pain when it has nowhere to go." We are meant to love. This book strips down our complicated human nature and paints it in stunning simplicity. Along the way, we are exposed to a rich narrative showing the history of Apartheid South Africa. We are shown that the line between good and evil is often very blurry. That life is never as clear as we wish it was, and that truth comes in many forms. I highly recommend this book. It comes out July 11. Thank you Penguin First to Read for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book!

This story covers some harsh topics, but it is is an important story and beautifully written. I am mesmerized by it and have already been raving about it online. I will definitely buy myself and a few friends a copy of this book and I greatly look forward to more from this author

This truly is one of the best books that I have ever read. The characters were so well rendered and believable. The story was sad but also brings to light the strength and resiliency of the human spirit in the face of tragedy and great loss. The main characters, one black and one white, live in Johannesburg South Africa. The time is the sixties and racial riots seem to be the order of the day, Black people are not even allowed on the streets after dark without paperwork stating their business otherwise they will be arrested. The white people in the country, for the most part are very cruel and unfeeling to the blacks. But the little girl who has lost her mother and is being taken care of by a black lady does not understand this and they form a loving bond with each other. I do not want to give anything away but there are many traumatic situations that test the relationship they have formed. This book will keep you up all night wanting to find out what happens and you will never guess the ending. If you are a fan of literary fiction you will love this book.

Hum If You Don't Know The Words is about loss, redemption, and racism. The subjects are given a profound and realistic perspective. The two narrators; Beauty and Robin seem to be opposites. The story covered both their voices in regards to their loss. Robin is naive when it comes to racism. I understood why because she lead a sheltered life. The trigger is what brings this topic into play. Being a woman a color this subject is handled with a delicate balance. Racism isn't dated.All of the characters in this book are essential to the story. It's not often that I read a book told from a child's POV and I found it believable. There a was a surprise early in the story that I was not prepared for. I connected and was drawn into her character. they felt real and many emotion ran through me as I reflected-pity, sympathy, gratitude, warmth. Marais unfolds the story artfully. I especially noticed how Robin losing the lighter lead to the climax. There are no slow bits and every chapter means something. Both of their worlds collide into a way I couldn't imagine. And you know what? I enjoyed it. When it came the conclusion, I wanted more. Definitely one of the best books I read in 2017. I learned a lot

This was such a good book. I don't often like books when the POV is a child, but this one really blew me away with it's rich storytelling. The POV changes between a 9-year-old white girl and a middle-age black woman who both live in South Africa. Their lives become intertwined and what comes out of their relationship is what makes this book so amazing.

I love historical fiction, so I was excited to read this book. I have to say I was NOT disappointed! The story is set in Apartheid South Africa, and is told from two perspectives: a white girl and a black village girl. The girls become acquainted and become close, which is both unlikely and beautiful.

I really enjoyed this book. It really gave me some things to think about and insight into the world. I realize that this is fiction but it also has some truth as well. I'm glad it touched on the topics of love, growth, and racism, one of the most unspoken topics in the world. Things like this really happened in Africa, America, Europe, and other places too. It will make you think, it will make you cry, and it make you angry. I enjoyed this read watching Robs grow from the sheltered creature with her parents to learning about the world in the span of sixteen (16) to eighteen (18) months. This little girl went through a lot but she persevered. There were also stories of the Africans who went through systematic racism and violence. Beauty a woman on a mission with nothing to lose except her life. But instead her eyes are opened and the whites, blacks, and jews learn about each other and unexpected friendships are formed. You'll like this story I sure did, once I began reading I didn't want to put it down.

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Apartheid in South Africa created a devastating and extremely oppressive culture for black Africans. Finally, in the 1970's blacks decided to fight back with devastating consequences for blacks and whites. White peoples were killed, often at random, and sometimes by the servants who worked for them. Blacks were accused of crimes at random, never going to trial after dying under "mysterious" circumstances. 8 year old Robin is sent to live with her Aunt after her parents are brutally murdered. Beauty, a black woman living far outside the chaos in Johannesburg, goes in search of her daughter who has joined the rebellion against white Africa. Robin's Aunt has little use for her precocious niece; Beauty needs a base in the city to search for her daughter so the two are thrown together. Despite their best efforts to not connect their lives entwine with danger, betrayal, redemption, forgiveness and, finally love. The characters made me laugh, cry and, even angry. A wonderful book

A special thank you to Penguin Random House First To Read for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Set in South Africa during Apartheid, the lives of two people collide and an unlikely bond is formed. Robin Conrad is a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in Johannesburg. Beauty Mbali is a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei who has been widowed and left to raise her three children. Divided by race, the two meet as a result of circumstances stemmed from the Soweto Uprising—a protest by black students ignites racial conflict in which Robin's parents are casualties, and Beauty's daughter goes missing. Robin is sent to live with her irresponsible aunt, and Beauty is hired to take care of Robin while continuing to look for her daughter. Beauty and Robin become dependent on one another to fill the voids of their lost loved ones. With the threat of Beauty abandoning her once her daughter is found, Robin makes a decision without understanding the magnitude it will have on Beauty, also failing to realize that this could cost her everything she loves. Robin is taken on a journey of self-discovery, love, loss, racism, and what family truly means. Told from alternating perspectives, Marais creates a strong character in Beauty, and an unreliable/naive one in Robin. There were times where Robin was endearing, and other times she was unbelievably precocious and this, along with the ending, was the difference between only liking the story and not loving it. I had incredible admiration for Beauty, not only for her intelligence, but for her compassion. Her stoicism and strength when met with such adversity was nothing short of amazing and I wish that the entire story was told from her perspective. She is well-written without being trivialized, Marais shines through her characterization.

There is something masterful about Hum If You Don’t Know the Words from the creative title, its complicated characters, to the intricate plot. Marais takes you on an emotional journey that is not only moving and entertaining, but also takes up issues of racism and progress. . Having read a few post-apartheid books, for my Masters, I was more familiar with the ramifications, the fall out of the prejudice driven laws. But this book puts everything into perspective from a variety of angles, from the rural villages, to the ghettoes of the city, to the treatment of other minorities. In that, this book provides us a much more comprehensive picture of the racism within the streets. Beauty and Robin, told through alternating perspectives, are at the heart of this book and this perspective is essential to the meaning of the story. Coming from two different worlds within the same country, for Robin especially, it is a learning experience. As a child, she only absorbs what she sees, and mimics their behaviors and opinions. Beauty’s presence in her life teaches us that nurture is stronger than nature. Her transformation is one of my favorite parts of the book, even if it made me cringe sometimes. Writing a child protagonist is always a unique challenge and Marais does a fantastic job of maintaining the balance between Robin’s innocence, her wisdom, and her childishness. At times she is wise, other times innocence of the hatred of the world, and other times selfish. She has her imaginary sister whom she places the monumental weight of grief upon to take solace in the imaginary. Her journey is multi-faceted, more intricate than the straightforward path between her home in the white part of town, to her aunt’s apartment. It reminds us that all these steps in our own story move us in mysterious ways towards events that will change us forever. They are two stories, united by violence of the same coin. This story, this important narrative, asks us how we envision the future, how do we reach this vision? If the Apartheid system breeds hate, what can the solution be? There are many beautiful parts of this book: the origin of Beauty’s name, Robin’s imaginary sister, and the transformation of Edith, Robin’s Aunt. But I would write my own book talking about them, their importance, and my feelings. Trust me, when you just have to read it for yourself. That way you too can witness the way that Beauty changes our lives, dispels our hatred, and nurtures our love.

What I loved most about this book is that it took the setting of South Africa during apartheid, mixed in tragic events with the main characters experiencing loss and grief, and yet it still managed to be a beautiful book despite the heavy topics. I liked the back and forth perspectives of Robin and Beauty. My criticism of the book is that sometimes it felt like the Robin would act in ways that didn't seem realistic. I thought the author went to the well a few too many times when having Robin say or do something cute or in some cases horrible. The climax of the book was a little far-fetched. Overall though, this was a good read that kept me interested the entire time!

This book - WOW! What an important read for me. 4.5 Stars. I'll be the first to admit that I don't pay attention to a lot of world events. I know bits and pieces about things but never the whole story. Apartheid was something I knew existed in South Africa - but Nelson Mandela was not on my radar until after his release from prison. I was knee deep in new mommyhood at that time so still didn't pay nearly as much attention to things as I should have. I was not fully unaware but definitely experiencing a global disconnect. This book brought it all home to me in an incredible way. It is the story of two South African families one black, the other white in the 1970's. It actually took me a little while to get into the story but once I did, I couldn't put it down. It was well written with characters who really came to life and inhabited my thoughts even when I wasn't reading. I finished it more than a day ago and I am still thinking about it. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading more from this author.

The story is set in South Africa during the Soweto uprising in 1976 and after effects going into 1977. This debut novel by Bianca Marais takes a hard look at Apartheid through the eyes of its main characters, Robin, a nine-year-old white girl, and Beauty a grown up black woman who are brought together because of the tragic circumstances they both experience during the uprising. While taking a look at Apartheid-era South Africa in the late 1970s this book is about so much more. It really is about how we are all just human beings who experience the same things, have the same emotions, and deal with all that life sends us in the same way, no matter our origins. I laughed, got angry, and cried throughout this book. I don't want to say too much about this book to spoil anything. But this is a definite must read and I highly recommended it.

A wonderful story of family-the ones we're born into and the ones we make- that showcases the repercussions of violence, class, and racism. A worthy addition to those who enjoyed such books as "A Thousand Splendid Suns". Robin Conrad beings the story as she recounts from an older perspective her life at 9-years-old with her family in South Africa. Taking place in the 1970's, the story starts with a violent protest of the treatments of the workers of the mines. Robin's father and mother get caught up in the violence and are murdered. The government gathers every person they deem suspicious including the family's maid, Manel. Everything Robin has ever known is taken away from her. There's something else going on here that I won't reveal, but its story makes itself known by page 60 and will have you wondering how you missed this twist. After her parents' death, Robin goes to live with her Aunt Edith, who along with her talking parrot Elvis, tries hard to become an instant parent to Robin and mourn her family loss at the same time. In another story alongside Robin's, Beauty Mbali is searching for her daughter Nomsa who was a co-organizer of the student rebellion in Johannesburg, the Soweto Uprising, who has now gone missing. Conflicting reports have her as moving from the violence to becoming a soldier of the rebellion planning more violent attacks. Both story lines move in ever-increasing tension as discussions on race and class are brought to light. Robin, naive for her age and smart in other ways of thinking, learns from her upbringing how divided the races are. Her perception changes as she starts to see her old maid not as someone who was "happy to clean up the mess" but as someone with hopes and dreams too. Her sheltered life quickly starts to dissolve away as she sees the social injustices. She wonders, if we're all the same, why is the black population asked to be separated from everyone else? Through bathrooms, stores, and job opportunity? Beauty, having known these injustices not only as a minority but also as a woman, is patient and kind once she and Robin meet because she knows the truth will always win out over hatred and bigotry. Her search for her daughter brings in Robin as a sort of surrogate daughter and the two discover ways to find the truth that also involves discovering what family truly means. There's action, adventure, and maybe a little bit of unbelievability of a 9-year-old playing detective, but there's so much more in this novel that explores the truth about life and love and exposes the ugly reality of racism while showing ways to overcome it. The only bad part of this novel is that it ends too soon. I hope there are more books with these characters or an Epilogue in the paperback version that sheds more light on what happens next to these well drawn characters who you want to see succeed in their quest for the meaning of life and justice. Book Clubs for sure should read this literary debut that is destined to be a part of the classics alluded to in early reviews such as "The Help" and my allusion to "A Thousand Splendid Suns".

I loved this book about the apartheid. A young girl named Robin loses her parents and is taken to live with her aunt. Beauty has a daughter that she is seeking to find. Their stories unite as Beauty brings the light back into Robin's eyes through taking care of her whIle her aunt travels for work. Robin ends up being contacted by the daughter and keeps it from Beauty in fear that she would lose her. I think that would be a good opportunity for a sequel and the writing was amazing.

I could not put this book down! I finished in a day, even with stopping to find additional background on the event that was the catalyst for bringing Robin, Edith and Beauty together. Robin is a ten year old trying to hold herself together as her life is completely turned upside down as Edith, Robin's aunt is dealing with her need to take responsibility for Robin without giving up her freedom. Enter Beauty, who is full of love and understanding; intelligent and responsible becomes the person to fill Robin and Edith's needs, but will they fill Beauty's needs? A cast of secondary characters that provide the 'rest of the village' needed to raise a child. I sincerely hope the tease at the end is true and we will read more of their intertwining lives.

This book is told as two stories told in parallel which then intersect, surrounding the events of the Soweto Uprising in 1976.  One story is that of a white child (Robin Conrad) whose parents were murdered following the protests and the other that of a black mother (Beauty Mbala) looking for her teen daughter who disappeared after participating in the uprising.  It is a story that explores race, commonality, and grief and is considered primarily from the perspective of a 10 year old.  This makes the tone feel more like a YA read than adult, but it is a moving and compulsively readable book nonetheless.  I appreciated learning more about the apartheid era and wish the author had delved into it in more depth, since the story focused in mainly on two individuals as the novel progressed instead of the larger events in South Africa.  Highly recommended. Thank you for the opportunity to read this!


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