Childhood memoir of township life

2010-07-14 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch

Chris van Wyk

Picador

 

CHRIS van Wyk describes life in the coloured township of Riverlea, ­Johannesburg, in this, his second childhood memoir. The strange title is inspired by the Van Wyk’s housekeeper Agnes, and her strange way of saying she had “eggs to lay, chickens to hatch,” whenever she was pressed for time.

Going back to the sixties and ­seventies, Van Wyk uses unpretentious but witty language to retell the tales of his childhood. He takes the reader on his daily ­adventures through dusty streets and busy classrooms, all the while describing his early appreciation for reading and writing.

The characters he ­encounters are colourful: from Conos and Vino, his childhood companions, to Agnes, with whom he strikes a strange friendship. Through the book, he des­cribes how Agnes teaches him about Zulu culture, allows him to stay home from school and innocently sparks political interest in the young boy.

He comically tells of how he comes across the word “communist” and how he silently vows to become one — for a few days. ­Although never forced on the reader, the apartheid system and its implications for the coloured community are carefully woven into the narrative, which is also a delightful set of anecdotes about siblings, comic books and Brylcreem.

Interspersed with fantastic South Africanisms such as “voetsek” and “toppie”, it’s an easy but thought-provoking read for any one. However, it’s a special treat for South Africans who grew up in colourful townships like Van Wyk’s.

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