Every family has things they’d rather people not know, or at least, not people outside the family. Whether your family is large or small, it’s likely that someone in it has a secret (I mean who hasn’t watched Bold and the Beautiful?), or something that they’d simply rather not tell anyone. The thing is though, it’s really hard to escape people who are related to you. They tend to hang around, alive or dead, their presence and impact continuously felt.
The Blacks of Cape Town follows the story of Zara Black, a historian who has travelled overseas to escape a family history that has been hidden from her until the very recent past. She’s an interesting character – fascinated with the past yet fleeing from the present of her own. The plot follows her telling of the story of her family as it catches up to her, thousands of kilometres away from South Africa in the USA. It explores the themes of betrayal, of family, of kinship and identity amongst migrants or foreigners, and of family.
The most interesting part I found about the story was the idea of memory. Of course, our memories are all subjective. We may remember someone as an idyllic and wonderful part of our history, but what if that person was merciless and cruel to someone else. Does that really change who they were for us? Are we able to understand people as anything other than our experience of them?
I often say that I don’t like to make decisions about people based on the opinion of others, which can sometimes feel extremely naive. After all, if the majority of people tell you that a person is a manipulative and conniving person, what is the point in giving them a chance? But, on the other hand, I also feel like people are often shaped by others expectations and opinions of them, so isn’t it worth trying to allow them to be better? Not in a Disney romance type of way, but in a real effort to allow people to occupy a space as a better and good person? Isn’t it better to be disappointed when you’ve given someone a chance than hard-hearted from the start?
I loved the way that Davids wove the present and the past because I think for many of us that is how we live. The things we’ve done and the people who have influenced us, whether they are family or not, whether they are in our lives currently or not, still feel very much alive. This is a book that explores that tenuous link, or rather tenuous separation, with style and strength.
Davids is a writer and editor, from South Africa. The Blacks of Cape Town was published by Modjaji books and is available for purchase here.