(sometimes) weekly sporadic post in which I reminisce over a backlist favorite.
Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais has been on my TBR for several years. I’ve been so interested in reading it, but never found the time to grab it off my shelf. And then last month a #bookstagram friend posted about it, and she was kind enough to add me to the buddy read group that was being hosted by Toni over at ReadWithToni.
You guys! This book blew. Me. Away! And it’s now officially a lifetime favorite. It was everything I wanted and so much more. So. Much. More. And now I’m in such a funk from the most intense reading hangover, I almost don’t know what to do with myself.
I don’t know that I’m going to be able to do this book justice with my words, so forgive me for my ramblings. I almost can’t control it when I talk about this book. It was a history lesson on life in South Africa during the apartheid 1970s, it was an uncomfortable reminder of the racism that we, as white people, are taught as children, and it was the most beautiful story of love between Robin and Beauty, and the relationship they build.
She’d brought love and life and color into my world, and I’d never see things in simple black and white again. She’d helped me realize that life wasn’t the kind of story that had a happy ending. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I’d come to believe that a story that ended happily was just a story that hadn’t ended yet.
I could say so many other things about this book, but that would include spoilers galore, and I won’t do that to you. Just trust me when I say this story, and the diverse cast of characters, are things that need to be on your shelf. This book has officially made its way to that list of books that will be lifetime favorites. Now I’m going to sit here twiddling my thumbs while I wait for Putnam to wise up and publish the sequel.
Highly recommend. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.
After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.
Told through Beauty and Robin’s alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.
Book stats: paperback, 448 pages, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 6, 2018