The story of the sinking of the SS Mendi off the Isle of Wight in 1917 is not well known. Also obscure is who was on board - mainly black soldiers, who having just fought the horrific Boer War in SA, were unfathomably drawn in to soldier with the Allied forces in World War 1. The context, setting and ingredients for a grand tale of injustice, heroism, political manoeuvring and intrigue are evident in abundance.
Fred Khumalo, who has a masters degree in creative writing and an EU literary award (for Bitches Brew) makes the most of this in an extraordinary tale of a few good men. He deftly draws us in from the very first page when, in Paris in 1958, there is a strange encounter in a restaurant that leads to an unexpected murder. What has that to do with anything? We then go back in time to meet Pitso Motaung, a young South African who is caught up in all the drama and emotion and cruelty of the earlier times, the plot forging ahead to a dramatic conclusion.
I expected to find it a dense, difficult to read, yet worthwhile endeavour. In my experience, worthwhile is never my most enjoyable encounter. Mr. Khumalo, I don’t know how, but you made this very personal, page turning, gripping and unique. I loved every word.
An epic adventure, exposing the horrors of war and humanity, yet revealing a vulnerable underbelly of love, justice, kindness and compassion.
You may also enjoy Constant Queen - another intensely personal historical fictional account of a viking queen - Elizaveta of Kiev. Or what about Robert Harris - An Officer and a Spy?