Thursday 3 August 2017

Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose

Gin returns to Johannesburg from New York to hold a birthday party for her 80 year old mother. Her timing is perfect - she returns on the day that Nelson Mandela's death is announced, and the nation starts pouring out its grief, its pain and also celebrating with many wreaths, flowers, candles and pilgrimages his wonderful life and inspiring legacy.

It's a party, and of course we meet cantankerous Mrs.  Brandt. But also Mercy, the domestic helper, and Dudu her friend. September, the miner from Marikana, Peter, Gin's ex, and Juno - the family pet - all feature.

Set on this single momentous day in Johannesburg Gin's past and future, her supporters and detractors, her family with all its faults collide, and no one is the same after that.

Here's an example of the beautiful writing:

"Some of the platters had thin cracks no wider than an ant's foot. Mercy ran her fingers across the fault lines. She liked how they felt and liked too the confidence she had that they would not break. The older things had a strength to them that the newer stuff did not. The same was true of women and girls. Mercy's own daughters worried her. So here, so there and always more money and more things and no work."

The characters were somewhat bare. Not that they weren't well developed, more that they were  distilled to their essence. And this skill of the author's for distillation pervaded the whole little book. In Johannesburg, thunderstorms and hail batter tree lined gardens, filled with roses tended by gentle hands, hardened through years of pain. Eyes that meet at traffic lights that glance away - some guilt, more pain. It's all there, but never over told. It's so very real.

This book resonated with my soul in a true reading experience. I know that Fiona Melrose gets Johannesburg, like I do. And I hope that all my friends read this. They won't all get it. But those who do will look at me, and we'll know. We do.

"Johannesburg is a profound hymn to an extraordinary city, and a devastating personal and political manifesto on love". Read it.

5 stars

ISBN: 9781472152831

Fiona Melrose also wrote Midwinter, which I reviewed here. You may also enjoy Why you taken by Janita Lawrence, also set in Jozi.

1 comment:

Juli Rahel said...

I like your comment about how the characters were 'distilled to their essence'! While reading you definitely get the sense that they're very laid bare to you and that although you might not know everything about then, you do know them inside out. I was already desperate to visit Johannesburg but this novel has made me even more determined to get there as soon as possible!
Juli @ A Universe in Words