Do Not Go Gentle by Futhi Ntshingila is a gut- wrenching novel. It tells the story of Zola and Mvelo, a mother and daughter with no resources struggling to survive in Mkhumbane township. I had no idea that this place I know as Cato Manor has a Zulu name. (I drove past it this morning and smiled to think I had just learnt something new about a place near which I have lived for years).
Mvelo is raped by a pastor. The language used to describe the horror of rape is so apt. Without any graphic detail which could possibly sensationalise the act, the writer focuses on the effects. The rapist “plunged hurriedly and brutally tearing her world and her illusions to pieces”. Those words rip into me and I feel the pain of this fourteen year old girl with the sole responsibility of nursing her mother, “the one that is sick with the three letters”. She wants to hide it from her mother but Zola knows “that something terrible and ferocious had touched her daughter’s soul”.
The way FN writes about Zola, both when she is alive and afterwards at her funeral gives a face and a personality to the anonymity of AIDS. We get to know her as a rounded human being who has touched many lives in her own way, who has loved and been loved, been rejected and hurt, who has beliefs and idiosyncrasies that are unique to her. For example, she is terrified about being buried in a coffin and begs her daughter to ensure that she is buried in a blanket. Apart from really enjoying getting to know these characters, I also think reading a book like this gives the reader a different perspective and can help in breaking down the typical prejudices that exist towards people such as shack dwellers and aids sufferers.
After Zola’s funeral, the narrative goes back to when Zola was at school and all that transpired in her life. Sipho is a major player both in her life and too many other womens’ lives. Noncebo, one of these women, is another fascinating, strong-willed character who often thinks very differently from those around her and is not afraid to speak her mind. There are many strong women in this book; women in dire straits who nevertheless display great courage and strength of character.
Possibly some of the characters are a little preachy, as if the writer is using a character to put across views she holds. I do not mind this because I like to know different ways of looking at things that are counter to the dominant narrative. For example, Nonceba lectures Sipho about wanting to send Mvelo to a private school as she believes it would be better for her to go to a township school. She says, “why pay thousands of rands for fees, transport, endless field trips and even salaries for private tutors when you can fix a school here”.
Perhaps too, some of the coincidences and revelations are a little too convenient though, after such a harrowing narrative, a little redemption does not go amiss. Despite this, the characters are convincing and I became immersed in their lives. There is a different sort of authenticity at play when the writer knows the community of which she writes.
A book worth reading.