Mother to Mother

Overview

Sindiwe Magona's novel Mother to Mother explores the South African legacy of apartheid through the lens of a woman who remembers a life marked by oppression and injustice. Magona decided to write this novel when she discovered that Fulbright Scholar Amy Biehl, who had been killed while working to organize the nation's first ever democratic elections in 1993, died just a few yards away from her own permanent residence in Guguletu, Capetown. She then learned that one of the boys held responsible for the killing was...

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Mother to Mother

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Overview

Sindiwe Magona's novel Mother to Mother explores the South African legacy of apartheid through the lens of a woman who remembers a life marked by oppression and injustice. Magona decided to write this novel when she discovered that Fulbright Scholar Amy Biehl, who had been killed while working to organize the nation's first ever democratic elections in 1993, died just a few yards away from her own permanent residence in Guguletu, Capetown. She then learned that one of the boys held responsible for the killing was in fact her neighbor's son. Magona began to imagine how easily it might have been her own son caught up in the wave of violence that day. The book is based on this real-life incident, and takes the form of an epistle to Amy Biehl's mother. The murderer's mother, Mandisi, writes about her life, the life of her child, and the colonized society that not only allowed, but perpetuated violence against women and impoverished black South Africans under the reign of apartheid. The result is not an apology for the murder, but a beautifully written exploration of the society that bred such violence.

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Editorial Reviews

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

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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807009499
  • Publisher: Beacon Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Series: Bluestreak Series
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 668,880
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.60 (d)

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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Table of Contents

Sindiwe Magona's novel Mother to Mother explores the South African legacy of apartheid through the lens of a woman who remembers a life marked by oppression and injustice. Magona decided to write this novel when she discovered that Fulbright Scholar Amy Biehl, who had been killed while working to organize the nation's first ever democratic elections in 1993, died just a few yards away from her own permanent residence in Guguletu, Capetown. She then learned that one of the boys held responsible for the killing was in fact her neighbor's son. Magona began to imagine how easily it might have been her own son caught up in the wave of violence that day. The book is based on this real-life incident, and takes the form of an epistle to Amy Biehl's mother. The murderer's mother, Mandisi, writes about her life, the life of her child, and the colonized society that not only allowed, but perpetuated violence against women and impoverished black South Africans under the reign of apartheid. The result is not an apology for the murder, but a beautifully written exploration of the society that bred such violence.
Read More Show Less

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