The complex romantic lives of South African women drive these astute short stories.
The women in Malatji’s collection are "black diamonds," members of the black middle class that sprang up after apartheid ended, or they're striving to join them. Though the stories are not connected, what unites them is each woman’s professional ambition and, more obviously, the compromises they are—or aren't—willing to make within their intimate relationships with men. If there is a statement that illustrates the spirit of the book, it’s this advice, given to Anna, the central character of the title story, by her mother: “My girl! You must know that to sustain marriage as a woman, you need a certain level of stupidity!” Whether a woman is willing to suspend her intelligence to placate a man is the core question of most of the stories. For many of the characters, the answer is an unequivocal "no." Suffering the male fools who populate their lives is something they decline to do, choosing to remain single, seemingly embracing the idea that “as much as we cannot survive without human affection, we also can’t survive on love alone.” For others, the decision is more complicated. In “My Perfect Husband,” a dutiful churchgoing wife is compelled to feign stupidity to aid her husband, who has brought tragedy to their lives. But the twist at the end is a satisfying high point, one of many examples Malotji presents of the gambits women make in the delicate dance that is romantic partnership. Woven into the insightful observations on love and relationships is the omnipresent tension between tradition and the ways that being a South African woman today challenges previously held ideas about women’s roles.
Many readers will see themselves in—and find themselves rooting for—the women in Malatji’s solid debut.