Mda is fascinated with how the past influences the future -
and this is especially illustrated in Heart of Redness (parts
of which, incidentally, were quoted by Valli Moosa in parliament!)
The book is based on a well-known fact-based Xhosa myth: In the
1800s the Xhosa Prophetess Nongqawuse told the Xhosa people that the
only way to stave off the scourge of the white people was to
slaughter their cattle. In desperation they did just that, only to find
that the white settlers still arrived in their droves. Close to
starvation, the people split into two groups, the believers (who still
subscribed to Prophetess Nongqawuse's prophecy) and the unbelievers
(who had more of a 'proof is in the pudding attitude'). With this
tradition in mind, the descendants of the believers are brought into
sharp 'modern-day' focus, revealing a deep-seated dilemma: The
village in which the 'believers' live is polarised between the
older generation who wish to preserve the 'old ways' and the younger
generation, who wish to get out of the confines of the village and
'experience life'. For example, there's Xoliswa Ximiya who
has been educated in America and can't wait to escape the stifling
confines of her native village; and there is the polar opposite of her
parents - direct descendants of the believers and part of a
generation desperately clinging to the tenets of tradition.
As with all of his novels, the book is packed full of rich
description, irony and dichotomy. For example, there are the
vignettes telling the tale of the exile who returns to Africa
after thirty years abroad, only to find it impossible to find work
under the 'new regime' where nepotism opens doors to
the description of the descendant of a vicious colonialist who
speaks and lives a Xhosa existence.
Camugu, recently returned to Johannesburg and disillusioned by the new democracy, moves to the remote Eastern Cape. There, in the nineteenth century, a teenage prophetess commanded the Xhosa people to kill their cattle and burn their crops, promising that the spirits of their ancestors would rise and drive the English into the ocean. The failed prophecy split the people in two, with devastating consequences. One hundred and fifty years later, the two groups’ decendants are at odds over plans to build a vast casino and tourist resort, and Camugu is soon drawn into their heritage and their future—and into a bizarre love triangle as well.
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