Perfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.
Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a ten-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred...until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.
After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.
Told through Beauty and Robin's alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum If You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Set in 1970s South Africa, this remarkable debut by Toronto-via-Johannesburg author Bianca Marais is a stunning examination of grief, devotion, and Apartheid. When her parents are murdered, ten-year-old Robin is left in the care of a peripatetic aunt; reeling, she yearns for the nurturing familiarity of Beauty Mbali, her family’s maid, whose own daughter has gone missing. Marais maps out the shattering effects of racism and the complexity of all-encompassing sorrow. Through these indelible, luminous characters, she presents a masterful portrait of unconventional family.
Nine-year-old Robin loves detective stories. So when the police arrive the night her parents are killed, she mistakenly believes she is now part of her favorite radio series. It's a harsh awakening for her to realize that South Africa in the 1970s is a place far more violent than those stories. With her parents gone, Robin's aunt puts her in the care of a Xhosa nanny, Beauty, a woman with her own tragic secrets: Beauty has vowed to stay in Johannesburg as long as it takes to find her daughter, Nomsa, who has disappeared after a student protest ends in bloodshed. However, as the days stretch into months, Beauty finds herself growing increasingly attached to the motherless white child she is being paid to raise. Likewise Robin grows to love Beauty, despite knowing her dead parents would disapprove of her close relationship with the black woman. In this standout debut Marais handles topics such as grief and racism with a delicate intensity that will make readers fall in love with her characters. From the first few heartfelt chapters to a fast-paced and heart-wrenching ending, Marais has created a stunning historical drama that shouldn't be missed.