UNMAKING GRACE by Barbara Boswell


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A "colored" girl comes of age as South Africa transitions from apartheid to democracy and the violence of her home life parallels the terror of the outside world.

Fourteen-year-old Grace falls for her neighbor Johnny, but their youthful romance is short-lived. Authorities of the apartheid regime detain Johnny during a raid of student protesters. Meanwhile, Grace’s family life descends into chaos as her father’s physical and emotional abuse escalates. By the time Nelson Mandela becomes president of a new South Africa and Johnny resurfaces more than a decade later, Grace has married her college sweetheart and become a mother. She has created the picture-perfect life, but her past proves too powerful to suppress. The first part of the novel takes place in 1985, unfolding from Grace's and her father’s alternating points of view. Mary, Grace’s mother, must figure out how to protect herself and Grace with few resources beyond her wits; Patrick, Grace’s father, is full of a rage that consumes his hopes of ever being a decent family man. Grace, their only child, must make sense of how the people responsible for her well-being cause such harm. Part 2 is all about a grown-up Grace in 1997, and Boswell renders her conflicting emotions and actions with vivid language as Grace risks the new, safe life she has built to be with her first love. “Somewhere in her body, that body made up not of platelets and cells but of memory and forgetting, of love and the places that shape, a nerve jangled,” Boswell writes as Grace and Johnny are reunited. The author does not hold back on how domestic violence operates, on how survivors of abuse, like Grace’s father and Johnny, so often become perpetrators of abuse themselves. While the novel is not gratuitous, it is graphic; there are some harrowing scenes, but this book is not medicine that needs be swallowed because of the importance of the issues at hand. The novel creates drama while confronting intersecting systemic oppressions and intergenerational trauma by foregrounding its characters’ needs, wants, wounds, and aspirations. The prose is taut with both clarity and complexity.

A smart, compassionate portrayal of one woman’s quest to end the cycle of violence.

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-946395-23-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Catalyst Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019