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Mother to Mother
     

Mother to Mother

by Sindiwe Magona (Contribution by)
 

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"A tour de force."*

A powerful novel of sorrow and compassion in South Africa based on the real-life murder of Amy Biehl, a Fulbright scholar organizing democratic elections who was killed by a mob in a black township.

"The intense cry of sympathy and pain aroused by an all-too-actual tragedy. Sindiwe Magona reminds us of the implacably complex tangle of fury,

Overview

"A tour de force."*

A powerful novel of sorrow and compassion in South Africa based on the real-life murder of Amy Biehl, a Fulbright scholar organizing democratic elections who was killed by a mob in a black township.

"The intense cry of sympathy and pain aroused by an all-too-actual tragedy. Sindiwe Magona reminds us of the implacably complex tangle of fury, loathing, innocence, and idealism that ruined two lives and cast a horrific shadow over both of their grieving families. Risky and honest, Mother to Mother raises a host of hard questions and, for all its compassion, resists consoling answers. I admire it immensely." -Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After

"With Mother to Mother Sindiwe Magona claims for herself a special place, bringing to her first novel the keen intelligence, the verve, the compassion and the stylistic self-assurance that marked her autobiographical writing in For My Children's Children and Forced to Grow, and the crisp sense of character that lent a hard gleam to the stories in Living, Loving and Lying Awake and Push-Push." -*André Brink

Author Bio: Sindiwe Magona is the author of two memoirs and two collections of short stories. She currently lives in New York, where she works at the U.N. She has contributed to The New York Times and has been anthologized in Under African Skies.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The senseless killing of Amy Biehl, a young Fulbright scholar who had gone to South Africa to help residents prepare for the first democratic elections in the history of that country, is the basis for this novel. On the day before she was scheduled to return home to America in August 1993, Amy gave a ride to several co-workers who lived in the poverty-ravaged all-black township of Guguletu. Rioting students pulled her from her car and stabbed her. South African novelist and short story writer Sindiwe Magona eschews a tabloid recreation of the crime, envisioning instead the world of Amy's killers, and creating in Mandisa, the mother of one of those young men, a martyr whose heart and life reflect the tragedy of apartheid. As her son Mxolisi's guilt is revealed, Mandisa mourns him, equating her loss with Amy's mother's. Determined to strike a common chord of grief with the woman she views as her Sister-Mother, Mandisa laments the circumstances of her own life, thereby hoping to explain her son's actions. She recalls with affecting clarity her coming of age in a stern but loving community whose reliance on established customs are a refuge from the relentless and brutal change instigated by the government's apartheid policy. Happy until the age of nine, when her family is forced to relocate to a desolate patch of land, Mandisa becomes a mother at 15 and a housemaid shortly thereafter. Mxolisi's introduction to racial violence occurs as a child, when he witnesses the shooting deaths of two older boys whom he idolizes; by age 20, he's become a respected leader of the student revolutionary movement. Although Magona's pacing seems irritatingly slow at times, the mood becomes taut as Mxolisi and Amy approach their moment of destiny in this chilling and ingenious docudrama, a noteworthy American debut for a writer whose work has received well-deserved praise in her own country. 3-city author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
This heartbreaking novel is based on the 1993 murder of Fullbright scholar Amy Biehl in Guguletu, South Africa. While Biehl was murdered by a mob of black youth, the author of Mother to Mother imagines one killer. From the first line, "My son killed your daughter," the reader is drawn into this story in the form of a letter from the mother of a killer to the mother of his victim. Compelling, but by no means an easy read, this is a biting condemnation of apartheid and its effects on the human spirit and psyche. Magona's intelligent and thought-provoking novel is strongly recommended for high school and public library collections. It should prove of particular interest to readers of contemporary African literature. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, Beacon, Bluestreak, 210p. 21cm. 99-26023., $13.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Elizabeth M. Mellett; YA Libn., Brookline P.L., Brookline, MA , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
Andre Brink
A tour de force; and part of its achievement lies in the way it exercises its own darkness in a vision of the all-embracing, all-suffering mother-narrator: "My son, the blind but sharpened arrow of the wrath of his race. Your daughter, the sacrifice of hers." It is in the scope of the humanity Sindiwe Magona evokes—through the sweeping range of her vision, as much as through the wonderfully observed details from everyday life—that the novel breaks out of the terrible stalemates of past and present, to make possible at least a glimpse of a future.
Sunday Independent
Howard Hewett
[A] novel that explores the complex moral territory between judgement and forgiveness... Linking an indivduals shortcomings, the novel clearly demonstrates the human damage caused by apartheid, At the same time, it does not erase responsibility for anyone's actions.
The Christian Science Monitor
Kirkus Reviews
A black South African writer, now New York–based, debuts with a novel that, as it seeks to explain the real-life 1993 murder of young American Amy Biehl, is often more an angry indictment of apartheid (justified) and of whites in general (less justified). Biehl was an idealistic Fulbright Scholar who, while working on a democracy project, was dragged from her car in a black township and stabbed to death by a mob of young blacks. The Biehl family has been remarkably forgiving, though the youths were subsequently released. The narrative takes the form of an imaginary letter written to the young woman's mother by Mandisa, the mother of one of the accused, 20-year-old Mxolisi. She attempts to elucidate why her gentle son became a killer, recalling her own childhood and the brutal relocation of her entire community to Guguletu, a segregated area in a barren place far from the city. At 15, she accidentally became pregnant—which, as much as apartheid, led to a hard life for both mother and son: Mandisa, forced to leave school, became a maid and reared Mxolisi alone. Eventually, bright Mxolisi also dropped out of school, in his case because Mandisa could no longer afford his textbooks. He was soon active in the "No Education Before Liberation" movement of the late 1980s, as black children left the classrooms for the streets to protest apartheid in increasingly violent ways. Popular and gifted, he became a leader of the gang that would turn murderous. The story, a heartfelt brief in support of a son and a lost generation, has a vehement, polemical tone. Whites are described as the "scourge `' that must be removed; Mandisa tells Mrs. Biehl that "people like your daughter have no inbornsense of fear. They so believe in their goodness" that it "blinker(s) their perception." The prose is also uneven, and the voice far too sophisticated for a narrator of supposedly limited education. A disappointing take on a vital, relevant subject.

From the Publisher
"Haunting . . . a most unusual novel, in which a black South African mother dares to explain her son's violence to the grieving mother of the white girl he murdered." --Jordana Hart, Ms.

"Unforgettable." --Hazel Rochman, Chicago Tribune

"Mother to Mother is a stunning novel; Magona has succeeded in her grand ambition to write a story of healing and confrontation. She has written a graceful, terrible story; it is an eloquent indictment of Apartheid and a passionate lament over the loss of Amy Biehl's life." --Angela Salas, The Boston Book Review

"As a lament for the terrible legacy of apartheid, the novel is surely a tour de force. As a story of individuals attempting to deal with choices made and perhaps regretted, it is a moving work of fiction." --Lee Milazzo, Dallas Morning News

"Gripping. . . . Points to a redemptive hope for those who can come together for healing, even when they have been bound together by sorrow. The writer's own courage in writing this novel is evidence of an increasingly powerful literary voice for [her] nation." --Heather Hewett, The Washington Post Book World

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780864864338
Publisher:
Interlink Publishing Group, Incorporated
Publication date:
01/01/1998
Pages:
210
Product dimensions:
5.51(w) x 8.27(h) x (d)

What People are Saying About This

Rosellen Brown
Mother to Mother is the intense cry of sympathy and pain aroused by an all-too-actual tragedy.…Risky and honest, Mother to Mother raises a host of hard questions and, for all its compassion, resist consoling answers. I admire it immensely.
—(Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After)

Meet the Author

After leaving the black township of Guguletu, South Africa, Sindiwe Magona earned her master's degree at Columbia University. She currently lives in New York, where she works at the United Nations. She has contributed to The New York Times and her work has been anthologized in Under African Skies.

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