TSOTSI by Athol Fugard
Kirkus Star


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Written 20 years ago but not published until now, this novel will attract attention because of Fugard's great achievements as a South African playwright. But even on its own terms, despite a tendency toward melodrama that's accentuated by the book's clipped brevity, this is strong, worthy fiction: a stark, moving exhibition of an agonized character's limitations. David Madondo is a young Soweto black, fatherless and motherless (she was swept up by the police, never to return). So, with ease, he has turned into a tsotsi--a roving criminal marauder--along with his gang: Boston, Die Aap, and Butcher, all of whom can rob and kill a man on a train or in a shebeen without a touch of remorse. But this way of life will change for David, thanks to two developments: he finds an abandoned infant in a shoe-box and takes it in; he discovers himself unable to casually mug and kill a legless beggar. And finally this new modicum of feeling for his victims becomes a thorn in David's side, leading him into areas of heart and sympathy which his bleak Soweto upbringing never before encouraged. Fugard's device throughout is chiarascuro--the light of the tsotsi's self-doubts, the gloom of his surroundings--and this shadowiness ultimately proves excessive, leading to sentimentality (the baby in the box, etc.). But if lacking in polish and subtleties, Fugard's early, less-than-fully-mature work takes on a grim intensity from its very existential dimensionless-ness--and the result is a small tale of harsh focus and undeniable power.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
ISBN: 0802142680
Publisher: Random House