Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 24, 2017

The Yearning, by Mohale Mashigo

The Yearning, by Mohale Mashigo, winner of the 2016 University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Debut Writing, is an unusual novel.  Because it explores the impacts of traditional healing techniques, it places the reader in the same position as the reader of Ali Alizadeh’s novel The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc: both novels depict mystical experiences and characters acting on spiritual beliefs that most people in the contemporary western world don’t believe in.  But Alizadeh’s novel overtly acknowledges that there is no satisfactory proof of Jeanne’s visions, and the reader can choose to believe in them or not without spoiling the novel.  That’s not the case with The Yearning. The reader has to accept that release from psychological torment comes from traditional practices that seem very strange indeed, if not downright harmful.

The other problem with Mashigo’s novel is that it takes a while to develop any narrative tension.  Marubini is a young woman living in Cape Town.  She works in marketing for a wine company, she has relationship issues with her mother and with her boyfriend Pierre, and she hangs around with her girlfriend Unathi.  She is also grieving the death of her grandfather Ntatemoholo and her father Baba who disappeared in mysterious circumstances.   Apart from some minor commentary about patronising racism that still persists in her workplace, this is all a bit lightweight  and it goes on for about one-fifth of the novel.

It is when Marubini begins to suffer what are thought to be seizures that the book becomes more interesting.  When these seizures occur, she sees her dead father and she also experiences what might be visions or flashbacks to some traumatic experience in her past.  (And yes, I guessed what that was, as most readers will, though it’s not quite in the form that I thought it would be).  When these seizures seem to suggest that Marubini has tried to kill herself, she reluctantly consults a therapist, but her family has different ideas, though they argue about whether their traditional healing methods should be revealed to Marubini or not.

Marubini’s brother Sim also has mystical powers: he sketches events at which he was not present so that they can be interpreted, and once again, the reader has to accept that this is possible and not some sort of skulduggery.  What is more satisfying is the psychological bond between the siblings.  Sim is the only one who believes that she did not try to kill herself, even though it stretches credibility to believe that she could have accidentally cut both wrists with a glass when in the bath.  Sim’s confidence in the troubled young woman is a powerful symbol of sibling love, and she is also supported by a caring mother and aunt, as well as Pierre.

Although I don’t have any religious beliefs, I was brought up to respect the religious beliefs of others, but I balk at believing in mystic cures even though I like to respect cultures unlike my own.  I just didn’t find it convincing that a badly damaged young woman could resolve her torment in the way that was described…

PS There are some startlingly explicit sex scenes.

Author: Mohale Mashigo
Title: The Yearning
Publisher: Pan Macmillan South Africa, 2017 (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B071NFHBST
Source: personal library, purchased from Amazon.


Responses

  1. I’m catching up, it seems everyone posted yesterday (and yours and Kim’s covers seen one after the other are strikingly similar). I like the mystical element in sub Saharan African writing, though like you I don’t believe in it. I can’t imagine how religious people believe in the things they say they do, in any culture.

  2. I find your take on the novel interesting. I think I managed to suspend my disbelief. Also I am surrounded by many people who hold these beliefs, sometimes unconsciously.

    • Hi Penny, thank you for your comment:)
      I’m sure you are right and that people do hold these beliefs, otherwise this author would not have written her novel the way she has, and she wouldn’t have won the prize either. But as a response to the problem of sexual abuse, IMO these beliefs probably don’t help at all, especially not when they involve further physical abuse of the victim.
      It’s a difficult issue, wanting to respect other cultures when other cultures have confronting values…

      • Yes indeed. A very good point again.

  3. […] To continue reading go to ANZ LitLovers BLOG […]


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