Ntshingila’s latest chronicles the past and present of a young girl suffering life’s blows.
Mvelo is orphaned at 14 when her mother dies of AIDS. She’s also pregnant after having been raped and faces a difficult decision. It’s a bleak start, but while tragic things happen, this story is not about tragedy: it is a story of how things happen and how that informs what happens next. Through shifting perspectives, Ntshingila takes readers back in time and through the lives of the people in Mvelo’s life. First there’s her mother, Zola, whose life at 16 takes a turn when she gives birth to Mvelo and loses her partner on the same day. There’s Sipho, the man who loves them both but has his vices, and Nonceba, the ferociously strong woman he leaves them for. Through beautiful prose and rich imagery, readers step into these lives and more, connecting the dots to the present day. Taking place mostly in Durban, South Africa, the tale doesn’t shy away from the reality of AIDS, poverty, or rampant sexual abuse, but instead of making those subjects its sole focus, Ntshingila folds them in with the other realities of life: love, joy, and hope.
Ntshingila’s lyrically wrought North American debut is a slim yet satisfying novel sure to trigger a wide range of emotions. (Fiction. 15-adult)