What will people say when they find out…this is the dominant mantra in the Hanover Park community on the Cape Flats. This is where people live in blocks of flats that are known as ‘courts’, where the Fourie family are trying desperately to live a respectable life and give their children opportunities that they did not have. The shame of other people gossiping is the last thing parents need; their good name is so important in a community that lives in close quarters.
This novel depicts the struggle of the Fourie family, Neville, Magda and their three teenage children during the State of Emergency in 1986. To a certain degree, their struggle is a microcosm of the country’s struggle. Each member represents a different aspect of society with different aspirations, limitations and notions. Members of the community are also at different stages of development. Many still accept the status quo which oppresses them and limits their freedoms while there are others who are politically involved and fighting the system. Thrown into the mix are the ills of a marginalised society such as gangs, drugs, rape and crowded living.
Neville, the father, wants the best for his family and believes he is an involved, hands-on parent. He is involved with the neighbourhood watch that divides Hanover Park into blocks to patrol so they can keep an eye on the gangsters. There is a new gang, JFK, challenging the established gang, the Americans. Ougat is the leader, just out of prison, with a reputation for extreme violence. Neville and Ougat have a run-in early on that can only mean future disaster. Neville cares so much for his family and does his best but it is virtually impossible when the cards are so stacked against one.
Magda works in a clothing factory and she is very religious. This is a cause of disagreement between her and Neville as he refuses to get involved with the church. He has reasons that stem back to his childhood in an orphanage. When she has church meetings, the rest of the family are cooped up in one of the two bedrooms with no TV. To some degree, Magda’s focus on her church and Neville’s involvement with the neighbourhood watch, as well as the fact that the children will not split on each other, means that they are completely out of touch with their childrens’ activities, until it is too late. Suzette drops out of school and models for a lingerie factory. Nicky, the conscientious child is sucked into Kevin’s political activism and then bad things happen to her friend, Shirley. Anthony is caught in the boy’s toilet at school with a pornographic magazine and receives six of the best; things go downhill from there.
The Cape Coloured dialect is brilliant, capturing the particular turn of phrase perfectly without making it unreadable (like Trainspotting). The pace is excellent too; once you reach halfway, you will not be able to put it down. The inevitability of the course of events is heart-breaking; no-one knows the story of 13 year old Anthony and how he got involved with the gangs. Although this is fiction, there are many people with life experiences such as his and this speaks for all of them. One of my best reads of 2015