O.M.G for the longest time I have been searching for African literature written by Africans specifically Black South Africans. I have googled, binged, asked people who read and I was just not winning. Okay maybe not for the longest time but beginning of this year, see when my anger subsided I needed to keep myself occupied and so I turned into my favourite past time – reading and writing, needless to say it has been the greatest discovery of all time for me that is.After countless attempts to form/ join a book club in my area, I stumbled upon Afro Book Club on Goodreads I couldn’t have known my Luck. Anyway before I found Afro I had already discovered Chimamanda who instantly became my favourite almost instantly to that I’ve read all her book except for ‘Things around your neck’ because I can’t find it anywhere in SA. No I’m still as old fashioned so no kindle for me for now, and no she did not qualify as my favourite because she’s a women she’s exceptionally brilliant.
But Diane Brown – now I can’t even thing of a word befitting enough to express what had just happened to me.
I suppose the whole African literature for me has been more than just a need but a longing, a yearning for something that i could relate to. I am almost exhausted in reading about silky hair blue eyes, flashy cars. not that there’s anything wrong with that but I wanted more out of books , maybe a better way of putting it is that I needed something that I can resonate with beyond words. December 2013 a book by a South African Author Diane Brown ‘THE SABI’ was chosen as the book of the month on Goodreads Afrobook club. I have to confess though I don’t follow the group’s updates religiously as I perhaps should, but for whatever reason I found myself a little active in this group. The book club was giving away pdf versions of the book, so I signed up and guess what? I happened to be the first South African from the group to request the pdf version and by default of that the author decided to give away the book (the hardcopy never mind PDF- how cool is that huh?– Ya’ay. A long time ago I had decided that I will have a quiet Christmas at home with just me myself and books, so the SABI made the list, should I say I made the list towards an awesome transformational discovery?
I am even ashamed to say that I had under estimated how much I would get out of the book. I usually prefer not to read the back cover because over time I have come to realise that it just ruins the book for me that’s just me. Boy oh boy have I been blown away by the SABI?
I have just finished the book literally now( 28 December 2013 20:15 South African time) As I put the book to rest it felt like I was disconnecting with a friend I had become to know, I wish I could give her a hug. I think I would be less emotional if the SABI was a fiction but the reality of it is that, it is based on a true story infact it is in itself a true story. It took me 4 days to finish the book simple because at most I had to put the book down recoup and have a go at it again. It is rich with South African culture in its entire diversity as it is, history yes history the good, the bad, the ugly, the funny and the not so funny. I want to say that I liked the angle in which the story is told but then I have to stop for it is not a story but someone’s life. Most South African set in that era have books been around the struggle I haven’t had one story told from a household point of view more especially from a child born in a mixed home/heritage.(could be my ignorance but hey) To think that I had always envied girls who went to boarding schools especially catholic ones. How the author has managed to forgive her father for all the beatings, verbal and emotional abuse I have absolutely no idea, how one person can endure so much and yet continue to Love is just beyond me.Diane experience apartheid at home more than she did outside of her home.
Its 1966 ,the fourth child after two boys and a girl, born to a self-made black man who dared the odds of the era in which he lived ,ran his household with an iron fist yet loved his children dearly to ensure that they get the best education there is.Apartheid is rife “but life does offer some respite and happy moments in periods of discomfort and sadness.” THE SABI Diane Brown.
In her book Diane takes us on a journey from her childhood through adulthood. As if being born differently (in terms of looks, appearance etc) from her siblings who came before her was not enough, even her father needed confirmation from the nurses that indeed she was his. From the beginning of the book Diane briefs us on the state of the nation at the time and not only South Africa but the entire globe ( now that’s proper research) but as I navigate through the pages I didn’t know what was ahead, none of the books I have ever read could have prepared me for this. The story is not told in real time but it is more of recalls, recounts from birth right up to this very day. At a tender age of 9 she and her older sister are sent to stay in a boarding house in Harding near Kwazulu Natal. It is sad that as a kid you don’t know much about life or what is ahead of you, your reality becomes your truth as you navigate thru right? Anyway I don’t mean to divert. How at that age she could find humour through all the brutality that she endured to a point where she names her perpetrator Cruella just goes to show that even at that age she sabi’d .Get this at the age of nine you have clear duties – you clean, cook, scrub floors and anything that will require scrubbing you name it she does it. By 4:00 in the morning you have to be up, clean the dog kennel, cook, clean the house, get ready for school then walk to school. Come back from school your ‘help’ duties are waiting for you and there’s home work in between. That time your father lacks nothing, you coming from having plenty but no your father will not spoil his kids. My aim is not to spoil the book by going much into detail. However there’s a part where Cruella hid Diane’ schools shoes and still asked her where the shoes were,(her hands must have been itching ,needed to practise her punching skills) as if beating her up was not ample she had to walk to and from school barefoot for almost three months if not more, while her school shoes are buried somewhere in Cruella’s closet. I suppose nothing just happens, the shoe incident had to happen so that Diane’s dad could get to see what kind of a person Cruella really was. I don’t even want to go into the man sneaking through the room while the girls were sleeping. The instructions from Cruella to go to bed without wearing underwear (I suppose for easy sneak peak for her husband)
But what is life? In spite of that Diane works hard excels in school.Enrolls in Varsity, her father chooses her degree for her against her will of course, even there she excels but most importantly she slowly discovers who she is.Her love for music flourishes. Meet friends like Bongi, she get to hear that she is beautiful. Of course if all you have ever heard all your life was how ugly you were, when someone tell you that you are beautiful in your late teens that becomes too much you just don’t know how to handle that. What would life be without friends, and people who accept you for who you are wholeheartedly?
When she described how she and the ‘Pianist’ fell in love I couldn’t even sit down with excitement and cheering and saying to myself “If anyone deserved a man close to perfection, loving caring, as the Pianist was it had to be her. Life hasn’t been kind to her for the longest time yet she never gave up…”What followed was a moment of creation. Our bodies, mind and spirit danced to the quintessential music of life and in that moment we were forever bound. That night our spirits joined forces and soared way above the clouds like mystic eagles and found the meaning of life. Our bodies united at last, allowed mother nature to speak undulating waves of rhythm through movement for which we had no control. We surrendered to her and she had her way with us. Our minds in unison agreed that no thought was required, for it had had its way far too long, it was the time of the universe, of God and the mind agreed to a death. We were soul mates, of this we had no doubt…’THE SABI’ Diane Brown…
Now if I add anything to that I will be really, really spoiling it for you.This book did more than just enlightened me, for once I feel that it is okay to be different for we do not choose where we are born, what the circumstances around us will be, nor do we choose the skin colour in which to be born in.My circumstances might not have been as torturous as hers but I know all about being the odd one out. Down playing your achievements I’ve done that, acting dumb so that the people around you could feel better about themselves – been there. Almost begging people to like you just the way you are to a point where you make all the effort to sustain friendships I’ve done that… Again it will be extremely insensitive of me to wish for a different ending to the story, no matter how hard I prayed that Nesta did not pass away I couldn’t I almost did not finish this book because I did not want to believe what was in front of me in black and white, much as life still remains a mystery to me – I sabi.
Thank you Diane for sharing your beautiful life with me, I know you did not only share it with me but somehow I felt that this book is a piece of a puzzle that’s been missing my entire life. It feels like through these pages I managed to take off a big layer of some burden I’ve been carrying I didn’t even know about…again – I SABI.