Powerful and disturbing

2012-01-25 00:00

EVE is written by Sandra Charles, who left the Cape in her teens, but whose novel is rooted in the world of the Cape Flats with such authenticity that it smacks of lived experience.

The smells and sights of Kensington in the second half of the 20th Century come to life as Eve, aged five in 1962, finds that most men around her don’t know how to relate to a bright girl child. When her adored father beats her when she laughs at a rude joke he makes with friends, even though she doesn’t understand it, her relationship with men is permanently skewed.

She notices that some men give her sweets or money if she lets them watch her in a certain way. She soon learns to manipulate them and funds her family’s need for luxuries by trying on clothes in the old Jewish shopkeeper’s changing rooms. His desire to watch her through half-opened curtains ensures she gets cigarettes for her father to buy his affection. Her mother, embittered by poverty and endless child­bearing, never asks why her young daughter always has money for treats.

When Eve is in Grade 7, an art teacher comes to their school. He relates to the pupils in a way no one ever has. She is smitten. She works at her art night and day to catch his attention. Unfortunately for her, he notices her obsession with him. The 34-year-old doesn’t ignore the 12-year-old’s crush as any sane teacher would. He finds ways to be alone with her, and it is sickly inevitable that her childish ­infatuation leads to rape. She endures his unwanted attentions for two years, until she tells a friend what’s happening. The whole family confronts the teacher in his home, but Eve is the one who is branded.

This is a deeply uncomfortable story at times. What is most important about it, however, is how a girl’s self worth is so often defined by her sexuality. It’s an indictment on ­society that the inadequacies of men around her force the young girl into an untenable position. Powerful and disturbing, this is a novel that had to be written to show that emancipation for women is impossible without men changing their views.

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