She Plays With the Darkness (Lethoso)

Lethoso picture with lake and rondavelsby Zakes Mda 

Courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

*****Really good.*****

A sister (Dikosha) and a brother (Radisene) from a village in the mountains of Lethoso. (A country completely surrounded by South Africa.) As they grow, Dikosha becomes more and more seduced by the ways of the ancestors until in her early 20s, she is living in a spiritual cave and dancing with spirits wearing a red dress that never fades and living on honey and herbs. Meanwhile Radisene has migrated to the lowlands and become an ambulance-chasing 3rd party insurance man.

Dikosha refuses all suitors,  including the one-time soccer star Sorry My Darlie, (who is obsessed with her) because she doesn’t need any man. She goes her own way and the people of the village allow it, saying she is how she is “because she was conceived at a night dance.”

Radisene becomes a Black 40-Year-Old-Virgin due to his love for Misti, a woman who finally tells him that despite her Western education, she has been called to become a traditional healer and therefore must never marry. He is then seduced by the wife of Trooper Matsohi, a free spirit named Tampololo who isn’t afraid to use her fists when she is angry.

How Do We Know We’re In Lethoso

  • The names of the people: Mother of Twins, Father of the Daughters. One man is called Hlong, but only answers to Petros, his “church name” on Sundays.
  • Coups:  2 in Radisene’s lifetime. Scary changes in government with much loss of human rights.
  • Conflict: The conflict between tradition and modernity, the past and the future, village life in the highlands and city life in the lowlands, and between brother and sister.
  • People are mad about soccer (and they don’t call it football). Tampololo and Radisene fight about it regularly.
  • Rondavels–people in the village live in circular huts. Dikosha flat refuses to move out of hers when Radisene builds their mother, Mother of Twins, a mansion.

The Elements of Style

Mda’s writing is as smooth as a pickup truck driving over dirt roads. The occasional pothole, but most of the time you could be lulled to sleep, so sweetly and steadily does he drive. The only potholes for me were:

  1. The story has no conclusion. It simply ends. In fact I went back and read the last chapter twice, because I was sure that I must have missed something.
  2. One thing that isn’t explained is why, after her beloved brother Radisene gives her a red dress and leaves for the lowlands, Dikosha refuses to speak to him again and locks her door against him for the next 20 years. Why? We don’t know.

Rating: 5 graffiti-free ancestral spirits dancing. This was a wonderful read and I enjoyed the humor and the education very much. I liked the twist that the abuser in the domestic violence relationship was the female, and that Trooper Matsohi then bullied others. He was a character you longed to kick. In some way you wanted to kick them all, much as you want to kick yourself when you feel yourself being stupid for pure stubbornness. But there were heroic moments too.

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