Book review –?Rape of Rachel: A nauseatingly vivid account of oppression

2014-10-14 08:00

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Rachel’s Blue by Zakes Mda

Kwela Books

272 pages

R195 at


On the first page of Zakes Mda’s latest novel, Rachel’s Blue, readers encounter Jason de Klerk, a likable guy who ends up as the villain.

His South African-sounding name and the mention of hippies might prompt them to think this is an offbeat book about a South African fringe community with a ragtag bunch of characters.

It soon becomes impossible to deny the American place names and the fact that this book is set in Athens County, Ohio, in the US.

Mda has been lecturing at the University of Ohio for a few years now and this is his second novel set in the US.

Rachel Boucher – a pretty, struggling busker and antifracking activist – and her grandmother Nana Moira live in a trailer in Jensen Township in Athens County.

Boucher is raped by De Klerk after she does not reciprocate his romantic overtures.

The story is about her uphill struggle to get her rapist convicted then to keep him from claiming paternity rights over the resulting child.

She feels let down by the justice system although Mda has created some strong characters within it.

Boucher’s only real support is from her friend, Schuyler, who has her own problems to deal with.

Moira, who raised Boucher after her drug-addict mother disappeared and her father died in the US’ first invasion of Iraq, volunteers at a community centre where food parcels are given to the poor.

Although she is well-meaning, her character apparently does not understand the need for a woman’s right to control her body?–?or maybe her actions are due to the fact that she carries a guilty secret.

Mda is brutal in the book and his description of Boucher’s ordeals are nauseatingly vivid?–?you can feel them on your own body. But his characteristic humour and lyricism are the page-turning sugar coating around the very serious themes of rape, sexual power relations, and morality and religion.

Even in this unconventional and apparently wholesome hippie community, people are tripped up by oppressive attitudes towards women.

Ordinary, even likable, people commit the violence in the book?– not monsters as we are often led to believe of rapists.

The title, Rachel’s Blue, has many meanings. At first it seems to describe Boucher’s state of mind, but it’s also the name of her rag doll and later her son?–?both of which she loved desperately. But they are also reminders of her abuse. It symbolises a contradiction that victims of sexual abuse often live with.

This is not my favourite Mda book, but I still found it difficult to put down.

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