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For Alia Dawood and her country, 1993 will be an important year. South Africa is on the eve of its first democratic elections, and Alia – 14, clumsy, combative, and full of pubescent angst – and her older sister Nasreen watch as the country is engulfed in an exhilarating combination of change and turmoil. Both girls admire their Uncle Waleed, an impossibly cool radical writer and political revolutionary whose subversive activities in 1986 endangered the whole family. As tensions mount across South Africa, the sisters – to the dismay of their parents and conservative grandmother, and to the bewilderment of their classmates at their elite private school – increasingly wish to emulate Waleed and rebel. An Imperfect Blessing takes us into the world of Cape Town’s Muslim community, and is told across two time periods: the heady days of 1993, and the fraught State of Emergency in 1986. The novel moves from the street to the schoolroom, from weddings to clubs, hospitals to townships and kitchens to mosques, by way of bars, house parties and bookshops. In so doing it documents the community’s history of slavery, the demise of District Six and the end of apartheid, with an exquisite centrepiece at the memorial for assassinated communist leader Chris Hani. An imperfect blessing is a masterful debut.
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