Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho
REVIEW: Dudumalingani Mqombothi
The Violent Gestures of Life is framed around the narrative of a fourteen-year old boy, Gift, who is arrested for allegedly raping his sister. He is sent to a youth reformatory, Qalakabusha (“to start afresh”), for his incarceration because of his age.
This coming of age story show just how terrifying an experience growing up can be, not only because of what one gives out to the world, but because of what the world gives back. Young people have to navigate many things and at times with naivety and the author manages to disassemble and assemble the mind of a troubled teenager.
At times, the writing is raw, at others sophisticated, and this is not terrible at all. Perhaps what helps the author navigate the narrative is that it is semi-biographical, since he too has a fascinating life story teeming with defeat, incarceration and triumphs, themes that are also explored in the book. Though I came to learn of this after I had finished reading the novel, it all made sense. The author is writing from within, purging demons and infusing them with prose.
In the second half of the book, how the author assembles and disassembles the protagonist and other characters is more cautious and this is less attractive. For example, some characters have an inexplicable change in personality, not justified within the text.
This caution, inking a narrative that tears itself away from being completely insufferable towards one that redeems itself, hinders the narrative.
Gift’s troubles are narrated by himself and they are slowly revealed through the book, at first without remorse or any cognitive insight, but later with maturity. This maturity is the result of what happens at the reform centre and the growing cordiality in his relationship with those closest to him. He comes to see what is wrong with his actions and nurtures new empathy as he begins to think about the feelings of the people in his life.
This book is, amongst other things, a narrative of reform centers that are tasked with rehabilitating young offenders, but end up destroying their souls, discouraging them from having any hope.
One could say that the book would mainly appeal to troubled adolescent children and their parents. It would show the youth where a troublesome life could lead them and suggest ways parents could use or avoid when dealing with their kids. But then that would perhaps be unfairly narrow as the novel carries many universal themes. It deals with the clash between religion and tradition, divorce, adultery, crime, xenophobia and homophobia.
The novel’s few problems stem from its use of language that I found unfamiliar and its narrative, which at times – to propel itself forward – interrupts itself with a dramatic incident when it did not need to.
However, this is a brilliant multifaceted read, and adds Mukwevhoto the list of exciting South African young authors.
- This review first appeared in the Cape Times in October 2014.