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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review from Discover Great New Writers
One need only read a few pages of Zakes Mda's exquisite first novel to recognize the talents of a master storyteller. Everything about this short work of fiction screams "literary classic." Mda's depiction of post-apartheid South Africa reveals that despite the opportunities for economic advancement, the newfound freedoms have yet to produce an absence of suffering. In the notorious black townships and squatter camps within large cities, crime and poverty continue unabated, as does the likelihood of meeting a violent death.
Toloki, raised in a small rural village, has come to the city to make his fortune as a "professional mourner," wailing for the dead at the endless succession of funerals. But as he hears of the short lives and grim deaths of those for whom he mourns, Toloki learns some surprising lessons. At a funeral on Christmas Day, he finds himself reunited with a childhood playmate from his village, a woman whose beauty and voice aroused both adoration and resentment among her fellow villagers. Noria has experienced anguish so extreme it might have destroyed one with less patience and fortitude, but these qualities, combined with her ability to find joy in the smallest of gifts, help Toloki face his own demons and heal the past.
Abandoning his quest for wealth in the city, Toloki returns to his village. Living in a nation going through the slow, often brutal process of facing the injustices of the past meant his peoples' ways of dying became his way of living. Toloki's salvation comes from realizing that the opposite can also be true. Fall 2002 Selection