I had the privilege of reading Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais as an Advanced Reader Copy. I say privilege because this book is truly outstanding. If you only read one book this summer, this is the book to read.
This novel is a brutally honest and emotionally compelling story, unlike anything I have ever read. This book begins in apartheid South Africa just before the 1976 Soweto uprising in which thousands of black students marched in protest of the apartheid government. Though the protest was peaceful, police open fired killing a hundred children.
Beauty, a well-educated black woman (educated before the Bantu Education Act) leaves her two sons to go to Johannesburg to find her daughter who has gone missing. In need of papers to stay and continue her search, Beauty must find a job. The story is narrated from the point of view of Beauty and Robin, a 10-year-old white girl who is orphaned when her parents are killed. Their two stories come together to form an unlikely bond.
I could tell from the first chapter how much I would enjoy this book. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is powerful, emotional and exquisitely written. I keep returning to a conversation Robins has with a boy named Asanda about the nature of racism. Marais has summarized such a complex topic with such simple eloquent words.
Maybe it’s that the whites need the black so much and that puts you all in a position of power that scares us. Or maybe its just that everyone needs someone to hate, and its easier to treat people terribly if you tell yourself they’re nothing like you.
I read this book without pausing to put it down. When I was done, I was overcome with emotion. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. The book did not have a neat and tidy ending because, in reality, the story does not end just because the book does. However, the ending of the book is fulfilling. It leaves me wondering and curious without that horrible feeling that there is something missing. Everything about this book felt right. As I mentioned in May’s Novel Ideas Post, this is my favorite book of the year. I cannot wait to see where this book goes.
Thank you to Putman for allowing the opportunity to read Hum if You Don’t Know the Words. Now, if I can just get Ms. Marais to sign it……..
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I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais
Published by Penguin on July 11th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Coming of Age, Family Life
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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.