Neighborliness isn’t an option for two elderly enemies living in adjacent homes in Katterijn, an upscale South African residential community. So what will happen when events push them into grudging cohabitation?
They call each other Hortensia the Horrible and Marion the Vulture, and they've lived next door to each other for 20 unfriendly years, with black Hortensia James openly despising white Marion Agostino’s racism. Marion, mother of four and a widow, is 81; childless, Barbadian Hortensia, whose husband is on his deathbed, is four years older. Both struggled successfully to express their outstanding creativity in the mid-20th century, when working women with their own businesses were rare. Hortensia overcame racism and parental disapproval to found a famed fabric-design company, while Marion built a successful architectural practice until her pregnancies forced her to quit. In her U.S. debut, South Africa–based Barbadian writer Omotoso does a deft job of shading in the personal and professional back stories to this pair of life-hardened battle-axes, adding a deeper layer of historical resonance in the form of a surprise claim for restitution by descendants of slaves quartered at Katterijn. Children, marriage, money, race, forgiveness, and ownership all play a part as the two old sparring partners find it useful—after an accident which leaves Hortensia bed-bound and Marion homeless—to share a house, coming to terms in the process with their own and each other’s truths. Hortensia will have none of Marion’s “Thelma-and-Louise bullshit” as they open up to each other and compassion emerges (mixed with impatience in Hortensia’s case and shame in Marion’s) for babies born and not born, opportunities lost, and the suffering of generations past.
A pleasing tale of reconciliation laced with acid humor and a cheery avoidance of sentimentality.