Book review – Banquet at Brabazan

2010-09-11 11:46

South African fiction writing is not only alive and well, but kicking ass too! Schonstein’s latest work of fiction is a beauty. The gentle, almost naïve, narrative can be lulling, but it makes the brutal parts that much more jarring.

The central character is not a person, but a hotel. The Brabazan Bar & Lodge is smack in the middle of Cape Town’s Long Street, where different characters walk the streets – and wander into the hotel for a room or just a bar stool.

The first person we meet is “a white man with a black man’s name” who has also lost his memory.

Oberon Yoruba turns up at the hotel with a suitcase full of money and his manner does not exactly encourage trust.

But this man soon becomes as much of a curiosity at the hotel as the life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary that watches over the street’s pedestrians from one of the rooms.

Among the long-term tenants of the Brabazan are owner Duke Ellerman, a rather drab young British doctor who works in a township clinic; four Russian prostitutes who like channelling Jackie O; two Zimbabwean refugees; a Mozambican housekeeper; and a popular a capella group.

Between the troupe’s baroque-romantic style, a man dressed in a sheet and angel’s wings, exotic prostitutes with even more exotic birds and a man on a mission, it seems hardly fair that Duke also has to deal with walk-in characters from the street who between them nurse a memory of a muti murder or permanently dress in bridal wear, the snooty newly moneyed and variously down-trodden characters.

All of these eccentric figures collide at the Brabazan, where at various levels they speak about their love of romance, theatre, poetry, their belief in the afterlife, miracles and angels.

This is a rich tapestry that brings together people who are so ordinary, they are extraordinary. It’s camp yet tender, funny and sad and extremely charming.

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