What does the world look like through a foreign student’s eyes ?
What happens when, while going to the Promised Land, you find not the dream you had in mind, but much more and in a much more different form ?
Thus begins Mandhla Mgijima alias Sipho’s novel, like a modern fairy tale : the young Nqobile goes to South Africa, then to America. He likes English-language fiction, befriends white men; he is young and enthousiastic and sees the world as he wished it to be.
“Nqobile had successfully forged another relation with white people, an achievement that made him silently proud. Internally, he was glowing. This was something he had managed to do seamlessly throughout his private high school with its white majority. He understood them well and held as a rule that mostly good came out of relations with white folk, and so he had made it a habit of actively engaging with them, especially at his American university.” (p.21)
Then comes the time when he gradually becomes more politically-aware and discovers the complex faces of the American society. The novel constantly refers to contemporary events (the campaigns #Blacklivesmatter in the United States and #Rhodesmustfall in South Africa, the terrorist attacks in Paris) and personalities, like Steve Biko- yet the profound meaning of the narrative lies elsewhere : this realistic scenery is home to a modern tale about how the notions of white and black shape our imagination, our judgement on people and our projects.
The book traces Nqobile’s transformation from an admirer of white men to a man fully aware of himself who has created his own philosophy on race, acceptance and life priorities. It is through the character of Nolwazi, Sipho’s South African publisher, that we learn how Nqobile reaches this awareness. It is also through her eyes that we learn how power relations work in everyday life between students of different countries and cultures. It is, finally, an image of what anyone could achieve if one stopped speaking in the name of truths one doesn’t really believe in.
Nqobile: The Story of Becoming by Mandla Mgijima
ISBN : 978-0- 7974- 8760- 4
Publisher : David Kaplan, Freelanceeditors.co.za , 2016
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France