Investigating a strange legacy of revenge

2009-02-25 00:00

FROM the opening chapter of his debut South African novel, Hamish Hoosen Pillay grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go till the last page.

It’s a gripping, if deeply uncomfortable take on revenge, which the author says was inspired by alleged transgender operations which took place within the South African Defence Force in the seventies and eighties.

Briefly, it tells the story of a young Asian special investigator, Ayesha Mansoor, who is working in the very high-profile Special Investigations Unit (Scorpions, perhaps?).

Determined to get her back to work after the break-up of her marriage, her boss, Ben de Villiers, sends her to investigate a gruesome attack on a woman in Hatfield. The country’s political elite are nervous as the incident has happened in an area many call home and they want the case solved as quickly as possible.

Mansoor is stunned by the brutality of the attack and amazed that the woman, Ellen Fischer, has survived it. Then the case takes an unexpected turn — Mansoor discovers the victim has undergone transgender surgery and, just days later, she learns about the execution-style killing of a transsexual man, Gert Smit, in Port Elizabeth. What’s more, both victims were once in the SADF and spent time as patients at 1 Military Hospital.

Meanwhile, the grandson of a prominent apartheid military doctor, Dr Blignaut, has been kidnapped and murdered and the perpetrators have sent him a message reminding him of his time at the military hospital.

Mansoor is determined to establish the link between Fischer, Smit and Blignaut, but finds herself doing battle with her superiors and the political elite as those in power begin to feel uncomfortable about the way the case is going.

I’m not going to say much more, except that the book finishes with a tragic twist, which makes you wonder about what constitutes a victim.

The Rainbow Has No Pink is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and I’m not surprised that its author won the 2008 Citizen Book Prize.

Estelle Sinkins

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