REVIEW BY: Aly Verbaan
It is often said that there is nothing more boring than other people’s dreams. I beg to differ. I don’t believe in Freud, but I do believe in the meaning of dreams and nightmares.
Ten-year-old Leke has a dream on the first page of Bom Boy, a simple child’s dream of acceptance and victory, but it’s a precursor to the 20-year-old Leke’s dreams, which uncloak just enough to convince the reader to give Leke another chance. Because Leke, or Bom Boy, is by no means a sympathetic character. He’s cold and calculating, and not particularly friendly to the other characters. But his dreams touch a common nerve: we know that someone who “slept, fell into a charcoal black hole and emerged exhausted, his muscles aching from a fight he couldn’t remember” is battling demons. His dreams are more real to him than reality, in which he is unmoored and without a compass.
Adopted as a baby by Jane and Marcus, a childless, white, middle-class Capetonian couple, Leke is an object of ridicule amongst the other kids: they know he is adopted because he is of mixed race. As an adult, Leke is rootless and immensely alone. Jane has died a protracted death to cancer, and Leke’s relationship with Marcus is fraying at the edges. The only affaire de coeur Leke has is with his car, Red, which he parks inside his studio apartment and sometimes sleeps in.
Packed to the gunwales with quirks, Leke is sometimes to be found planting Four O’Clocks in the moonlight, sometimes thieving at the local mall. He is sensitive and overwhelmed by life, but he is also siphoning off money from the Western Medical Fund where he works as a programmer.
Leke aches for human contact, touch, more urgently than anything else. He uses the medical fund to pay for a slew of medical check-ups: GPs, dentists, herbalists, optometrists, Hellerworkers, and even blood donations, just for the intimacy with another person. “‘Where does it hurt?’” asks the physiotherapist. “…Leke pointed to just below his hairline at the back of his head, and flapped his hands to indicate ‘everywhere’.”
Intertwined with Leke’s day-to-day life is his biological parents’ history two decades earlier when Leke was born. Elaine and Oscar’s relationship is doomed from the start: Elaine is trapped between the demands of her boss at the supermarket where she works, and taking care of the baby on her own, because Oscar is in jail for killing an elderly man.
But it is not as it seems: Oscar’s intention was to quell a family curse, something Leke learns of from a series of letters Oscar wrote to him when he was in jail and Leke was a baby. They tell of his Yoruban roots, his grand- and great-grandparents, and of the hex that predestines that only sons will be born to the family and they will not live to life expectancy. Leke’s somatisation reaches the high-water mark when he finds he cannot read the letters because his eyes can’t focus on the words, although there is nothing wrong with his eyes otherwise.
Bom Boyexplores the idea of rebirth and the meaning of family against the mise en scène of black magic in a modern world. Omotoso illustrates inimitably what is means to be alone, materially and in mind, and just how thin the fabric of society is.
Bom Boy is an unusual and laudable debut, marred only by the editor’s massacre of commas and capital letters, and the occasional understandable, but unforgivable, slip in spelling.
- Bom Boy was shortlisted for: 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the M-Net Literary Award in the Film category. It won the 2012 SALA English First-time Published Author Award
This review first appeared in the Cape Times in November 2011.