Absorbing and powerful

2018-04-26 16:00
Tsk-Tsk, The story of a child at large.

Tsk-Tsk, The story of a child at large.

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I started Tsk-Tsk, The story of a child at large, early one Saturday morning, and didn’t put it down until after 1 pm. I read it cover to cover in one sitting and wild horses would not have dragged me from its pages.

It’s an extremely riveting read.

Hackney says it’s her memoir, a true story “with embellishments”, and part of the reading of it is wondering what the embellishments actually are. I think I can guess what may have been exaggerated, perhaps for dramatic effect, but I am not really sure.

It turns out that Hackney and I were at GHS at the same time, so I recognised her from the short time we overlapped there, although she was a few years below me. That, and the fact that it is based in my home town, made the reading of it all the more real for me, I think readers from other places will also find it a captivating read.

The story deals with her childhood and teenage years, from when she was brought to Pietermaritzburg as a newly adopted baby.

Hackney describes the strained relationship she had with her adoptive mother, and what amounts to the resulting emotional neglect of this young girl is very hard to read about. But at the same time, her account of the times she spent playing near a stream with the neighbourhood boys, is wild, happy abandon. Many who experienced similar childhood joys will reminiscence alongside Hackney as they read. While it’s a roller-coaster read, there is much sweet nostalgia in the book tied to recognisable names and places, and for local readers this forms part of the huge thrill of it. Ballet lessons with Megan de Beyer, her schooling at GHS (with the description of her interaction with stern principal Mrs Dowse), Russell High and other schools, and her speech and drama lessons, are among the other evocative aspects of childhood in Pietermaritzburg many reading the book may have experienced themselves.

Also read: Harrowing story of a ruined childhood

The innocence/experience theme is a strong theme in the book.

As she grows up, Hackney describes her developing rebellion that eventually results in her expulsion from various schools and her confinement to a place of safety and eventually a prison-like industrial school. She also experiences terrible personal tragedy.

It’s harrowing to digest at times, and despite feeling a helpless sympathy with the writer, there are times when you want to shout at the child Suzan and tell her to behave, for her own good. Mixed up in this, is a sense of awe at this rebel child’s incredible bravery in the face of authority. She comes across as having a will of iron and absolutely no fear, and who won’t admire that aspect of her? It’s just a pity this was not better managed and channelled in different ways perhaps. Her intelligence as a child also shines through on the pages.

Hackney’s story is absorbing and powerful. She does not indulge in a pity party, and her writing is understated.

Some of the gaps in the story, she says, are explained in her sequel which she is busy writing. If these are addressed they will strengthen this book.

The mystery of children’s homes for outsiders and the unknown dark world of the “reformatory” are described starkly and they are a real eye-opener.

Hackney pokes in the eye all the prejudices people may have about girls who behaved like she did in her book by telling her compelling, powerful back story in a way that brings some understanding.

Look what she’s become now, a published author. That’s a massive achievement. I am sure most readers will be cheering her on from the sidelines. I certainly am.

• Stephanie Saville is the deputy editor at The Witness.

• Suzan Hackney will be holding a book signing at Exclusive Books, Liberty Midlands Mall on Saturday from 10 am to noon. 

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  book reviews

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