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.
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……..