If You Want To Make God Laugh

Putnam. Jul. 2019. 448p. ISBN 9780735219311. $448; ebk. ISBN 9780735219328. F
Following her debut, Hum if You Don’t Know the Words, Marais returns to South Africa, this time in the early 1990s on the cusp of the election of Nelson Mandela, bringing readers into the lives of three women experiencing self-doubt. There’s 17-year-old Zodwa, who feels as if she’s disappointed her mother by becoming pregnant and, at the same time, is developing feelings for her best friend; former nun Delilah, experiencing guilt about abandoning her faith and the family she never knew; and socialite Ruth, whose addiction issues mask deep-seated feelings of insecurity. Incorporating characters from her first book, Marais shows how the lives of Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah overlap in unexpected ways. Zodwa’s coming of age during the threat of civil war and the AIDS epidemic leads her to uncover long-buried secrets about her absent brother, and about herself. Ruth and Delilah, meanwhile, decide to foster a Khumalo child amid hostility from their Afrikaner neighbors—and are forced to reckon with their pasts in the process.
VERDICT As with her debut, Marais excels at creating compelling characters; readers will be turning the pages, wondering what life has in store for each. [See Prepub Alert, 1/23/19.]

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