Call and Response: Stories

Viking. Jan. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9780593490983. $27. F
DEBUT Set in Botswana, this luminous collection of short stories plumbs the depths of women’s interior lives, deftly juxtaposing the quotidian with the universal. These strong individuals juggle the desire to break free from traditional expectations with the realization that, for all their education and travels, the innate love of homeland remains undiminished. Sisters, mothers, daughters, and wives star in these vignettes at various moments in their lives, a rebellious teenager in one story unrecognizable as the disillusioned career professional in another. Moeng is hilariously matter-of-fact when describing a young couple’s first sexual experience, completely devoid of romance, but later somberly addresses the scourge of HIV/AIDS without ever having to say its name. Though men are often peripheral to the action, the relationship between one little boy and his grandmother is beautifully captured in “Early Life and Education,” a novella that follows Lerako through his formative years, the acquiring and losing of his Christian faith, and an intellectual awakening at university in Gaborone and London.
VERDICT Moeng, a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford with an MFA from the University of Mississippi, writes with lush, heartfelt intensity that illuminates contemporary Botswana for readers who value complex female characters navigating a rapidly changing world.
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