The women of rural South Africa may have been the most neglected victims of the apartheid system, and while South African-born Ngcobo, now living in England, has written a novel that attempts to tell their story, the characters and plot here are too obviously secondary to its political message for a literary success. Jezile--who illustrates the terrible oppression imposed not only by apartheid but by tribal tradition in the 1950's and 60's--is a woman of remarkable strength. Of necessity, for Jezile has to contend with her mother-in-law's antipathy and rigid insistence on traditional behavior, as well as with the apartheid-enforced separation from her husband, Siyalo, who works for 50 weeks of the year in the distant city. Life in the country, where drought is endemic and the lands are overgrazed, is also hard. Jezile finally becomes pregnant after a brief visit to Siyalo, but Siyalo's political activism leads to his dismissal, and he returns to the country. A daughter is born; then Jezile's own protests against apartheid lead to her imprisonment, and the baby sickens. Already pregnant with a second daughter, Jezile returns home to find the family starving. The troubles continue: Siyalo is imprisoned; Jezile is raped by her white employer, who fathers her another child--a half-caste--and mother and son are shunned by Siyalo and the rest of the family. As the years pass, one daughter flees the country to become a guerrilla, and the other is saved from rape by Jezile, who kills the white attacker. And again Jezile will have to pay. However well-meaning, Ngcobo's American debut suffers not only from pedestrian writing but also a cast of somewhat manipulated characters in describing a situation that might have been better served by a factual report. The story of the rural women of South Africa has yet to be told.