An entertaining read with a strong message for our times

2008-11-05 00:00

AMANDA, Edith, Cordelia, Doris and Beauty are the Five Firm Friends —FFF. They are career women, forging good lives for themselves in and around Cape Town. They meet regularly for fun, girl talk, and sometimes more serious things as well. But they are all there for each other.

Then Beauty becomes sick and, after a short illness, dies. Her husband — who the other women don’t much care for — tries to keep them away from her while she is ill, but Amanda does manage to spend time with Beauty who admits what it is that is killing her, and she tells her to make sure that the other FFFs don’t come to the same end. Because she is dying of Aids.

The ripples from this news will shake a couple of relationships to their core, and change many things in the lives of the remaining four friends. Sindiwe Magona has written a book with a strong message — take control of your life and be assertive about it. It is a short novel, very readable, and despite having an obvious purpose, is still entertaining.

The friends are a lively bunch, and their lives as they move out of the townships into the suburbs offer a fascinating glimpse into what it means to be the first generation on the way out of the apartheid-imposed ghetto. It is a social moment that brings with it obvious strains, which in South Africa are compounded by the threat of HIV.

Magona is a successful and award-winning author and has returned to South Africa after two decades at the United Nations in New York. She obviously feels people must speak out on the Aids issue because only if the stigma is removed and the disease can be talked about openly, can it be controlled. And she has the writing skill to make the message palatable. It is a brave book.

Margaret von Klemperer

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