Innards: Stories

Norton. Jun. 2023. 224p. ISBN 9781324051008. $27.95. F
DEBUT The title of this collection of linked stories perfectly reflects the interior trauma of living under centuries of oppression, distilling it into the daily lives of the residents of the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa. Luminous language, generously inflected with vibrant dialects, extolls the celebration of Blackness yet vies with the unsettling subject matter, the unspeakable injustice visited upon generations of the majority Black population by the minority white colonizers. Stripped of their ancestral lands, families build homes on borrowed soil, coax food and flora from sterile ground, raise animals to sell their entrails, all while keeping wary eyes on the dusty road for signs of the authorities itching to arrest or displace. Some risk torture and death, clandestinely meeting, plotting an overthrow of the Afrikaner government. A young woman is rendered mute after witnessing a necklacing, a gruesome form of execution used to punish perceived collaborators. Rape is common, suicide the often-preferred escape. And yet, remarkably, still they rise.
VERDICT Soweto-born Makhene uses her unique voice to characterize South Africa much as Ben Okri does for Nigeria or NoViolet Bulwayo for Zimbabwe. Her debut collection is necessarily difficult and disturbingly intense, as any stories of life under apartheid must be, but careful reading will unearth kernels of the inherent resilience and humor of her people.
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