The core of what it is to be human

2010-07-07 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Four Drunk Beauties

Alex Smith

Umuzi

THIS is a beautiful and creative book from a talented and acclaimed South African writer.

The story has many narrators and revolves around two men, Kamaal and Drew. Kamaal is an Iranian Muslim and in prison because of his political crimes. Drew is an American Jew who is in prison for taking photographs. They are naked and bound together, back to back, in an Iranian prison. As their health and bodies disintegrate Kamaal narrates the tale of the four drunken beauties in an attempt to keep their spirits alive.

The beautiful, artistic and eccentric beauties include an ex-assassin who is a housekeeper, a Senegalese sculptor, a Chinese virtuoso cellist and a South African woman. The women witness a man’s death in France and soon find themselves involved in a heady race against time to save the world. An ancient brotherhood is on the rise and conspiracies, mythology and poetry abound.

The boundaries between truth and fiction become blurred as Kamaal attempts to finish his story. Falcons, gemstones, princes, ancient buildings and exotic cuisine are all brought together in his tale. Kamaal and Drew, despite all their differences, end up shedding their layers and getting to the core of what it is to be human and a man.

This is a gem of a novel, full of magical realism and breathtaking imagery. Smith’s use of language conjures up foreign sights, tastes and smells.

Her novel is rich and full of colour and she is not afraid to experiment with her writing style. This has earned her many literary awards and one of her short stories hasbeen short-listed for the prestigious Caine Prize which will announce its winners soon. I must say that this review cannot even begin to do justice to Smith’s talent. You have to experience her writing for yourself.

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