Telling a single fictional narrative is an art. But telling the story of an entire family and their separate yet intertwined experiences is absolute skill.
Rehana Rossouw manages to write a single story from a multitude of characters, attitudes and perspective in a way that is coherent and gripping.
Sometimes authors try to weave the stories of different characters but it often becomes messy and at best confusing. This is not the case with this book.
It took my very long to start What will people say? after going to the launch some three months ago.
It wasn’t for the lack of an enticing plot but I figured after reading the first four pages of the novel, that I had to give this book 100% of my thoughts and mind.
It is not a book that you read in bits and pieces. The story is too powerful not to fully immerse yourself in it.
And finally, on a flight, I was able to give it my full where it gripped my attention, made me giggle, forced me to nod incessantly in agreement and at the same time have the hair on my back stand.
It was worth the wait and worth every moment.
What will people say? is centred around the Fourie family of five as they experience life in the derelict Cape Flats in the mid 1980’s.
Rehana tells a simple story in a very simple way and that is what makes her story so unique and captivating.
Set in the depths of apartheid, the Fourie parents are unskilled factory workers with the mother determined to give her kids a brighter future, seeking solace in the church.
The lives of their school going three kids, Suzette, Nicky and their son Anthony, are plagued with the devastating effects of poverty, gang violence and the lure gangsters have, drug abuse and unwanted pregnancies- a norm in that society.
While Rehana added significant elements of clichés in narrating the mostly unsurprising tale of helplessness in the Cape Flats, she wasn’t afraid to engage with uncomfortable experiences like gang rape.
At the same time, while the story seems familiar you are left guessing so as to what would happen to each of the characters.
It ended quite naturally in a way where you are not left hanging but at the same time understand that things may not have worked out for every character.
Most importantly, I loved that Rehana naturally included Cape Afrikaans slang and did not try hard to define the slang in a sanitised way.
I loved that she owned the language of the culture she wrote about. Because at the end of the day, if we don’t own our dialect and language, then who will?