Book Review: London, Cape Town, Joburg by Zukiswa Wanner

London Cape Town Joburg, London, Cape Town, Joburg, Zukiswa Wanner, Apartheid, Sexuality, Racism

By the time you read this…

The prologue gives it away. Zuko Spencer-O’Malley is dead. He has committed suicide. And he has left his father a suicide note. You are left to delve into the book to find out why a young boy would take his own life. On the day that he turns thirteen nonetheless. That revealing suicide note is shared with you on the last page of the book, 331 pages later.

The book is London, Cape Town, Joburg and it takes you through a journey of two continents. Two worlds. That of a white woman who marries a Black man. A man who having been born, bred and schooled in London goes to South Africa, his mother’s country, his wife and son in tow. It is a story told by both husband and wife, Martin O’Malley and Germaine Spencer respectively, interchangeably.

The two meet in London where they date and within days of dating realize that they have fallen in love with each other. Zukiswa narrates this bi-racial relationship beautifully, romantically and palpably that it is no surprise when it leads to marriage and subsequent birth of their son.

And then life truly begins.

Martin wants his son to live among people who look like him. He wants him to belong to the society he grows up in. He also wants the support structure that comes with an extended family. To Martin, London will not give his son what he wants for him. This is his motivation to move from London to South Africa. But even with the good intentions, will his son get what he needs from this African country?

When they move to Cape Town the couple both try to fit into a society wrought by racism in the wake of Apartheid. A country preparing for its first democratic election.

In Cape Town, we meet Liam, Martin’s step brother and Sindiwe, his mother. Germaine, a strong woman unafraid to speak her mind takes the transitions in her stride, even forging new friendships in their new home.

It is when they move to Joburg where Martin takes up a job offer from his brother Liam that things really change to shake up their lives. Gugu, an attractive PA enters into the picture. Soon enough, Martin gets to find missing puzzles of his paternal roots. Zuko who is by then very passionate about swimming, gets a chance to engage in his hobby between meeting new relatives and updating a journal given to him by his maternal grandfather.

It is in these newly-forged relations that Zuko is irreparably damaged, Martin is cold-heartedly betrayed and Germaine is shatteringly heartbroken.

I love Zukiswa’s writing. I like how the story is told refreshingly from Martin and Germaine’s point of view. I even like how the book is segmented in short chapters as this made it easy for me to read it in small bits between life interruptions – and you are made aware of life’s interruptive nature only when you are holding a good book in your hands.

I had only three issues with the book;

One; for some reason, I had a problem picturing Germaine as a white woman. There was something confusing about her identity. Can’t really place my finger on it yet, but her character came off as very African. So much that I had to keep reminding myself as I read the book that she was supposedly white. Whether it was the author’s intention or not, Germaine’s character felt like a contradiction.

Two; the cover of the book does not do it any justice. It makes the book look like a boring narration of the ancient, historical background of three cities as opposed to a beautiful narration of love, racism, family ties, betrayal, sex, sexuality and governance in these three different places. I would advise anyone who has not read the book to truly not judge it by its cover because a very interesting story and great storytelling skills are showcased therein.

Three; the ending. Don’t I always have problems with this though? The ending feels incomplete; a chapter or two short. A conflict was left unresolved.

Read the book and tell me what you think. If you have already read it, please share your thoughts. Tell me if you agree that we should request for a sequel from Zukiswa Wanner.

I rate London, Cape Town, Joburg a three out of five.

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1 Comment

  1. The bit on page 332 is the journal entry and not the suicide note yes? My curiosity is what exactly was in the suicide note titled ‘Dear Papa’ that had elicited hatred from Germaine and murderous intent from Martin given that he already knew about the rape and didn’t feel the need to kill Liam up until he read the suicide note. And yes I agree with you – a sequel is needed.

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