Believe me, this is NOT the first book that introduced me to African literature. I don’t remember which was the first one. My mother is an English literature teacher. We read novels the moment we learned to read. Our house was always filled with storybooks she borrowed from the school library. We grew up in a small rural centre in Kenya so we didn’t have electricity in our early years. This meant our main form of entertainment was reading.
I pick Mine Boy because it was the first book I didn’t quite understand its purpose. I was way too young when I read it. It was so interesting and I couldn’t put it down but I hardly understood everything I read in there. I was fascinated by the food the characters ate. I had never heard you could eat meat with bread. In Kenya, bread is mostly for breakfast. So at the time, I was salivating at the idea that you could eat bread with some beef stew.
Mine Boy is a story about Xuma, a farmboy who arrives in Malay Camp – a black impoverished Johannesburg slum – looking for work. He is your typical person from a rural area with no money or place to stay arriving in a city. Leah, an illicit beer seller takes him in. He meets Ma Plank (my favourite character), Daddy, Dladla and Joseph at Leah’s all of who are drunkards with a carefree look at life. He falls in love at first sight with Eliza. The story is one of a man who is forced to confront his own convictions amidst the hopelessness of poverty and apartheid racism.
Xuma was a complex character who I couldn’t quite decipher. I understood nothing of race relations. I understood his obsession with Eliza even less. Eliza had not been written as a character you could empathise with. She was cold, aloof and almost condescending. I wanted Xuma to quickly open his heart to Maisy.
Mine Boy was a story that stuck in my mind for a long time. It was depressing. There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Even the ending was so confusing. I didn’t know Xuma’s fate. Although the likelihood that it didn’t end well seems true.
Mine Boy was an adult book. My mother loved it so much. I realized later on why she did.
This is my fourth post for the #WinterABC2022 by Afrobloggers!