Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais
March 29, 2019
Dear Mr. Hemingway,
Oh boy, Mr. H. I had the pleasure of reading such a beautiful book. Not only did this story tug at my heartstrings, but it also introduced me to some loveable characters that have not left my side since I finished their story. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais tells the story of two strangers who come into each other’s lives during heartbreaking times. With the Apartheid era and the Soweto uprising in South Africa as the backdrop, Marais crafted a story filled with love, loss, and hope for a brighter future.
Marais’ story is narrated by the two main characters in alternating chapters. The first character is Robin Conrad, a 9-year-old white girl living with her parents in Johannesburg in the 1970s. Her only exposure to the South African world around her is limited to her sheltered home life and her parents’ prejudiced views. Robin experiences a tremendous loss early on in the story, forcing her to go live with her Aunt Edith, miles away. Life changes drastically for Robin when she is introduced to an environment so different from where she was raised. Our second character is Beauty Mbali. Beauty is an Xhosa woman whose older daughter goes missing at the start of the Soweto uprising. To Beauty’s surprise, her daughter played a significant role during this uprising, while fighting for the cause. Devastated by the news of her missing daughter, Beauty leaves her two young sons behind to search for her.
Now that you have met the main characters, here is how they collide. Robin’s Aunt Edith’s independent lifestyle is rocked when she becomes her primary caregiver. Her job as a flight attendant is jeopardized when Robin arrives. In order to keep her job and continue to live as a free spirit, Edith hires Beauty to be her caregiver in her absence. As a black woman living during dangerous times, Beauty needs this job to remain in the area safely while searching for her daughter. These two individuals from vastly different societies slowly find rhythm together in their day to day lives. However, as Beauty’s search for her daughter intensifies, so does Robin’s need for Beauty’s presence.
Having been born and raised in South Africa, Marais writes about her home country with clarity and ease. She skillfully sets the scene for her historical drama by cleverly intertwining her two main characters in a fashion that highlights the diverse languages and rich cultures of South Africa. Marais’ book shines light on the the racial issues and injustices occurring during the Apartheid era. She also takes a deeper look at Robin’s significant loss and what grieving and coping skills look like for her living under these circumstances. Marais paints a picture of a young girl fearful of losing the people around her and desperately seeking love and security during uncertain times. What I truly love about this book is how authentic these main characters are. There is no doubt that their point of views greatly contribute to the depth of this story. Where Robin’s interpretations and narratives have a flare of childish innocence and at times even humor, Beauty’s account is overflowing with cutthroat determination and motherly love. Together they bring readers into a world where equality isn’t in fashion, but the love of family always holds true. I feel certain that readers will devour this glorious novel with great passion and love………….just as I did. I am over the moon that Bianca Marais has another novel coming out this July! Keep the books coming Bianca!!!!!!!
Until next time my Friend.
Your Biggest Fan,
P.S. If you enjoy reading about this time period, check out Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. His book is a wonderful companion read to Hum if You Don’t Know the Words.