Book review: The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy

Book cover. Picture: supplied.
Book cover. Picture: supplied.

The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy by Bhekisisa Mncube

True, words and graphics are deceptive. I was again deceived, this time by the title and cover graphics of The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy by Bhekisisa Mncube.

Penguin Random House

R199 at takealot.com

..---

I rushed into this memoir hoping for a refreshing and fascinating read, and Fred Khumalo’s words on the blurb made it all the more appealing.

With a subjective assumption that not many black South African men keep diaries – I tried to keep one; it died with only two entries and a summary of my first week in boarding school – I disregarded the author’s notes, foreword and prologue mainly because, at best, they create false expectations and, at worst, they’re spoilers of what’s coming up in the book.

Predicaments are what shape our great men and women. If, say, there was never apartheid, we would not have known of the great spirit of resilience of the class of Nelson Mandela. The life predicament in this memoir is the interracial marriage of a Zulu boy and a white woman.

But the opening chapter all but shoots the book dead at point blank range. Mncube plants a tale of his molestation at a young age into the reader and then, while this plant is growing, he starts rambling about things like mankgorong – a chicken whose head is cut off in front of the gate before the initiates can walk into the home yard – never really getting to the marrow of the issues that he is confronting.

He treats and presents his interracial marriage as if he were an outsider on a research project about the phenomenon, depriving the reader of a profound emotional involvement with his marriage, the highs and lows, and nuance and texture. Mncube cites research papers as if they are what influence his life experience; as if this memoir is somehow approved by the research findings.

His code-named wife, Professor D, had some form of relationship with his family before he even kissed her – the kiss that began it all – and there is a petrified chapter about perceived problems with how his family is going to take the news of his white wife.

And then there’s the problem that he wrote this memoir as if he was writing on social-media platforms in which his followers are responding positively, basically patting him on the back, without applying critical thought and guidance.

Here is a memoir about a poor Zulu boy who married a wealthy white woman who appears to have annihilated his Zulu identity. The Zulu people are a nation of pride, they are even proud of King Zwelithini. Mncube is locked out of his own house and ordered by his wife to be nice before she lets him in. And why code-name your wife?

Mncube fails to interrogate his masculinity and his marriage. He rambles on fishing for a plot, he even goes on to explain in detail the lobola protocols of the Zulu tribe, which had no bearing at all on his marriage.

Worst of all is this paragraph: “However, on my part, I am done playing Mr Nice Guy with my wife. All I ever really wanted from her as a white person was the return of the dispossessed land. I have held back on this demand for 16 long years. Here is to you, Professor D.: give back the land, and all will be forgiven.”

I look at the book’s cover again.

I still don’t know who Professor D is. The love diary turns out to be some kind of a political manifesto on land reappropriation.

That and a kind of conquest diary of a Zulu boy, as Mncube, with naive honesty, recreates his past relationships and issues – some that should have remained buried – for no concrete reason at all and playing no role within the greater context of his story.

I close this book feeling that it was a premature publication. Yes, there is a writer locked within this text as there are things of diverse, national and multicultural importance, but it needed much thought, critique and focus to flower and take shape.

As it is now, it is like a mankgorong that drops dead at the gate. The worst book I have read this year, but this year still has a way to go. – Phetogo Moele

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