‘Sometimes I wish Baba was still alive. I loved him before and after he became a snake. He always seemed to know the story that lurked behind my eyes. ‘You are going to be stuck between green and blue one day, Marubini. The past and future will stalk you. Don’t choose either of them; always choose today.’”
These words are from Mohale Mashigo’s debut novel, The Yearning, an intricate tale about Marubini, who goes on a journey of self-discovery.
She is torn between her present-day life as a marketing executive at a prestigious Cape wine estate and her younger days growing up in Soweto.
The font differentiates past from present, making it easy for readers to identify Marubini as she is now and as she was then.
The protagonist is presented as a strong-willed, independent, thirtysomething black woman who experienced heartbreak at a young age, when her father passed away.
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As the reader is drawn into her life, we learn that he had transitioned from an ordinary man to a traditional healer, having heeded his ancestral calling. The victim of a callous murder, he passed away when Marubini – or Rubi, as she is called by her friends – was just eight.
It is while living in her modern world of deadlines and marketing strategies that her cultural roots and traditions start to hold her in thrall unexpectedly, even affecting her health.
Rubi finds herself having to undertake a journey similar to the one that her baba once took.
It is a choice that she must either accept or reject.
Rubi is dating restaurant manager Pierre, a character who adds cultural interest by his Euro-African roots. Pierre’s calm demeanour seems to subdue Rubi, appealing to her fiery heart and gentle soul.
But as she veers between love and loss, the pain of the past and her hopes for the future, she is dogged by a need to know exactly what lessons the past holds for her.
This is where Mashigo’s writing shines as she connects these contradictory themes intricately, while her use of colourful metaphors breathes life into the narrative.
One such metaphor is a memory of Rubi’s grandmother explaining the bodily changes that young girls experience: “‘A girl is like a seed; just the beginning stage of something big, something wonderful that will affect the whole world in ways unthought of,’ she told me.”
Simply yet evocatively rendered, this image enables the reader to feel part of Rubi’s coming of age, and it is descriptions like this that make The Yearning a delight to read.