Kagiso Lesego Molope’s third novel, This Book Betrays My Brother, may very well be South Africa’s Nervous Conditions [a novel by Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga] in its tackling of gender issues, sexual violence and race from the perspective of a young woman in a patriarchal society.
Written as a testimony, the story is narrated by Naledi, younger sister to the popular, brilliant and good-looking Basi. Naledi soon realises that when she wants something, it is best to go through her loving older brother, the golden child. Despite her attempts to please her mother, she will always be “the other child”.
Naledi’s parents own the main supermarket in the township. Soon they have made enough money to move on up the hill to the double-storeyed section of town. When they move, the children are placed in better schools and Naledi’s mother wants nothing to do with the embarrassing people from the wrong side of the tracks, including Kgosi, Basi’s best friend.
It is through Kgosi, Basi meets the beautiful and graceful Moipone. Moipone is there when rugby captain Basi is embarrassed by his coach before a match and barred from playing because the other team will not play against a black boy. She is also there when Kgosi and Basi throw a welcome home party for Kgosi’s mother, Sis Nono, who has just returned from serving a sentence for killing her spouse.
After this party things go awry. Through Naledi’s eyes, Molope dissects the community’s perspective on rape.
Assertions about the act are dismissed because the “victim” did not report it on time. Some of the rapist’s greatest supporters are women, who question what the victim was wearing. The observations of a witness told to a third party mean nothing; she is silenced for lacking loyalty.
If there is any criticism to be made about This Book Betrays My Brother, it is that the rapist does not get his comeuppance. Instead, he becomes a lawyer who defends victims of gender-based violence. He extends his “forgiveness” to the witness against him, suggesting she was too young to know anything.
But perhaps disappointment in this turn of events should not even feature as criticism.
This is the reality of rape in South Africa. Molope’s novel handles social realism better than many that have attempted to do the same.
In a country where some of the men in government, business, and sport have been accused of violence against women, this novel is a must-read.
And, in a South Africa where pornography in schools is passed around through teenagers’ cellphones, perhaps it is fitting that the book is published by Oxford University Press – it has a chance of making it on to school reading lists.
Written in simple yet beautiful prose, it should elicit some much-needed conversations in book clubs as the world observes 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
- This Book Betrays my Brother by Kagiso Lesego Molope
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