South African men and women struggle to find love in a corrupt world in Mtshali’s debut novel.
Sizwe Motha, a millionaire playboy, is nearly killed when two gunmen cause him to crash his car. He survives, but he’s not the only one seeking answers to why he was attacked. Fourth-year journalism student Mandisa Sangweni is also trying to uncover the truth about the attempted murder and also get an inside scoop on Sizwe himself, who may not be such an innocent victim. He asks her out, unaware that she’s a journalist; will she stay undercover, or get too close? Meanwhile, Sizwe’s cousin Philani Zungu, a university student studying poetry, has his own relationship troubles. Mtshali breaks his novel into short sections that separately follow each of his three main characters from third-person perspectives, but their stories are less intriguing than the novel’s overall setting: Johannesburg in present day. The author shows the duality of a city where the “distant city lights have always looked like the kind of dreams anyone would like to chase,” but where, for some, the threat of violent death is ever present: “Too many funerals, not enough graduations.” Mtshali brings this same sense of duality to Sizwe, a man mired in scandal and criminality who also helps pay for Philani’s education and gives back to his community. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the novel never reaches this same level of complexity. As characters, Mandisa and Philani never feel three-dimensional, and the author spends time on greetings and other unnecessary dialogue instead of conversations that advance the story. Meanwhile, the conflicts rise and fall too swiftly and simply, making it difficult to become invested in the plot.
A peek into present-day Johannesburg hampered by an underdeveloped story and characters.