Once a month, a decrepit train that houses the spirits of the dead passes through a small African town. On this day, the people of the wards gather to catch a glimpse of their deceased loved ones. The reunion is brief, but it is an important familial connection integral to their culture. The train rumbles down a track that separates the wards from the city. But the as the city expands its boundaries, it encroaches upon the railway and soon threatens its destruction.
A nameless woman from the wards struggles to support her family. Everything has a cost now, including her love for her girlfriend, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to pay the price. One night she is visited by the dreamskin of her grandmother. Dreamskins are supposed to be the harbingers of the dead. But in addition to portending her grandmother’s death, the dreamskin has a gift for her and a warning.
Her hair begins to grey and pieces of her black skin start to flake away leaving her with an ashen hue. She is slowly losing more and more of her self. Other denizens of the wards are becoming invisible as more of their lands crumble away in the wake of the encroaching city. She must struggle between succumbing to oppression or fighting the consumption and dissolution of her land, her culture and herself.
The main character is nameless, which derails any of the preconceived notions readers may ascribe to a given name. You would think this would create a distance, make it more difficult to identify with her. But I found this, combined with intimacy of sharing in her dream consciousness, made her more accessible and allowed for a more intimate relationship. She is struggling to find her own identity in a world that wants nothing more than to assimilate and oppress her. Accompanying her on her quest for self really drew me into her character.
We know she is an artist. She has a close family, a deceased boyfriend and a girlfriend. She is torn between a brother who is embracing the encroaching culture of the city and her desire to preserve their ancestry. She cannot accept what is happening and in the face of oppression, she shows great strength withstanding the pressure and fighting back. I deeply admired her character.
The Writing Style
The story is told from the perspective of the nameless narrator in what seems like a dreamlike setting. It is full of beautiful, vivid and jarring imagery and the combination kept me entirely engrossed. The atmosphere and mood are psychologically intense.
The language is poetic at times, raw at others. It created an interesting mixture of feeling close to the narrator, and also fundamentally different from her.
I love the dream atmosphere permeating the book. It adds a macabre aura to the story that enhances the overall message perfectly capturing the fear, the separation from self and the struggle for identity the narrator is experiencing. Also, I found this glimpse into the mind of the narrator allowed for a much more intimate connection with her.
A big bonus for me is the cover, it reminds me of the Janelle Monae album cover for The ArchAndroid which I am off to listen to now!
I don’t have any cons at all.
This is a story with a strong anticolonial message focusing on the importance of identity and resisting assimilation. It is at once an enlightening and entertaining read. Each turn of the page brought me closer to the narrator and her quest to preserve her culture and find her identity. I recommend this book whether you are looking for a new perspective or one similar to your own.
Excerpt from The Silence of the Wilting Skin by Tlotlo Tsamaase
Little girl do you understand how difficult it is to mine dreamskin and extract from them a bountiful resource? Here you are mimicking me to a threat instead of seeking me as power. There are enemies who alter your vision so they have power over you. To have vision is empowerment – freedom.
“But I don’t want to die.”
Even if I were here to kill you, it would be the fake you that dies…not the real you.
“The fake me?” I look about me unable to find an ally for escape. “What’s so fake about me?”
The fake you is not this color, is not this hair. You questioned it before. If you are like the citizens from The City on the Other Side, then why is there a dividing line between you and them? Why do they receive more benefits? You are unconscious to the spiritual submissiveness that tethers you to the religious web of this city, thinking it holy. The fake you is a manufactured avatar by this city’s ideals. You are a pawn in the grand scheme of things. Your sight, your hearing, the gem dissolved in your skin, the language on your tongue is a product that neither profits you nor promotes you in this ‘beloved’ city. You think you are invisible, that is nothing! Wait until you are not white-washed but turned translucent. Do you want to see?
The truth. Feel the truth. Bleed the truth. The world you so blithely desire is already here in your mind, penned in by their laws – she points in the direction of the other half of the city – Break the walls and you are free.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: B0833WXDG6
- Publisher: Pink Narcissus Press
- Tlotlo Tsamaase Online
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