Period Pain by Kopano Matlwa

Date Read: January 20th 2018

Published: 2017

Publisher: Jacana Media

Pages: 188

The Blurb

Period Pain captures the heartache and confusion of so many South Africans who feel defeated by the litany of headline horrors; xenophobia, corrective rape, corruption and crime and for many the death sentence that is the public health nightmare. Where are we going, what have we become? Period Pain helps us navigate our South Africa. We meet Masechaba, and through her story we are able to reflect, to question and to rediscover our humanity.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Dr. Kopano Matlwa is a writer and doctor I truly admire! I remember purchasing her debut – Coconut, back in 2011. But I never got around to finishing the book that year, thanks to never-ending college papers. I hope to rectify this soon and possibly finish reading Matlwa’s debut this year!

Period Pain follows Masechaba (aka – Chaba), a young house officer/1st year doctor fighting through tough working conditions in a South African hospital. Not only is Chaba struggling to work in under-resourced hospital conditions, but she’s also dealing with her own health issues – severe menorrhagia, depression, PTSD; while trying to aid in the fight against xenophobia in the nation. I’m yet to read a novel set in South Africa where violence isn’t one of the main characters of the novel. *sigh*

While Period Pain is raw and agonizing, it’s not all depressing. I had many good laughs while reading this short novel! Chaba is humorous and her (only) friend we encounter in the novel – Nyasha from Zimbabwe, is such a bitch – but a ‘woke’ one, I suppose! The exploration of Chaba and Nyasha’s friendship felt very real. Nyasha was such an abrasive, ruthless person, while Chaba was the complete opposite and almost depended on Nyasha’s approval to feel good about herself. The trajectory of their friendship was quite sad and left me almost hating Nyasha, despite the fact that everyone hated her as a foreigner in South Africa.

Besides Matlwa’s exploration of female friendship in this novel, I especially related to the many helpless incidents (and the medical jargon) Chaba faced on the wards, as I’m a dental student. I’m truly starting to love novels that intersect with my medical/dental education. Such stories make me feel less alone in the struggles of the training.

Kopano Matlwa’s ability to blend heavy issues such as: suicide, sexual assault, xenophobia, depression, violence, Christian hypocrisy etc. with humor made me love this novel! The book is written in the form of a diary/journal, where Chaba talks to God about anything and everything. Her conversations with God felt like the conversations very close friends have with one another – light, needy, lonely, confused, desperate. I like that the book is laced with Bible verses and showed how Chaba meditated on the verses, but practiced the opposite of what the scriptures instructed. It sort of mirrored the lifestyle of many Christians of today.

Matlwa’s writing style was deeply compelling and made me wonder how much of HER life is part of Chaba’s story. Matlwa’s ability to make you feel Chaba’s pain, confusion and victories were visceral. I would have rated Period Pain 5 stars, but the ending fell a little flat. It felt predictable and was tied up a little too neatly for me, hence my overall rating of 4.5 stars.

Side note – Upon finishing the novel, I now see why British publishers (Sceptre) decided to name this book Evening Primrose. But I don’t understand why they thought a change in the title (from ‘Period Pain’) would sell the book better. Period Pain as a title is loud & severe, and simply embodies the essence of this novel. I’m glad I purchased this South African edition (published by Jacana Media). Supporting African publishers is necessary + I like the book cover too!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

disgrace coetzeeDate Read: February 8th 2016

Published: 1999

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 220

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

At fifty-two, Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire, but lacking in passion. When an affair with a student leaves him jobless, shunned by friends, and ridiculed by his ex-wife, he retreats to his daughter Lucy’s smallholding. David’s visit becomes an extended stay as he attempts to find meaning in his one remaining relationship. Instead, an incident of unimaginable terror and violence forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship – and the equally complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.

 

Review –  ★★★★ (4 stars)

This book engrossed me from the first to the last page! I totally understand why J.M. Coetzee won several awards for this novel, including The Man Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature 4 years after the publication of this book AND even has a 2008 film adaptation of this book starring John Malkovich as the main character, Professor David Lurie. I need to find that film and watch it! I doubt it would be as good as the book, but it will definitely be worth the watch.

Professor David Lurie – the protagonist (who is portrayed as a white South African) rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning of this novel. We first encounter him in bed with a prostitute at a brothel he frequents in Cape Town. This prostitute for some reason decides to quite her job, and David starts searching for her, as he believes they share an intimate bond. Once she tells him off after he spotted her with her children walking about in town, he decides to find new sexual adventures elsewhere. Sooner than later, David finds interest in one of his undergraduate students – Melanie.

For some strange, sick reason, David believes Melanie is actually into him and he invites her to his home, makes her feel comfortable with some alcohol and sleeps with her. This happens several times during the semester, even though Melanie is clearly uncomfortable. When David is finally confronted with his inappropriate behavior by the academic board and Melanie’s father, David (who is not really ashamed of this abominable affair) quits his job and travels to the countryside where his daughter, Lucy resides. Lucy isn’t the same girl David knew her to be. She is overweight, slightly depressed and seems to be living in a trance as she resides on a farm, adjacent to Petrus – a black South African, who apparently is helpful to her.

The story takes a serious turn while David stays in the countryside with Lucy. Readers are rudely awakened by the violent, racially tense incidents that occur and the novel suddenly becomes dark and quite frightening. J.M. Coetzee does an incredible job at ceasing readers’ attention and emotions from the beginning of this novel to the end. There are heavy themes of rape, racism, violence, depression, (white) guilt, animal rights issues, new generation versus old generation, abortion, shame, feminism, sexism, satyriasis, infidelity AND disgrace – all in this novel!

When I sat back and accessed how I felt about this book after I completed it, I concluded that there were double meanings and interpretations to the events that occur in the storyline. There are lots of complexities to unravel in this book. Disgrace would make for excellent discussions in book clubs and literature classes. I have so many opinions on David and his daughter Lucy – it was hard not to judge them… but I’ll keep my opinions to myself so I don’t divulge too much of the storyline! This book definitely took a toll on my emotions and actually had me feeling offended and upset at some parts. Please be warned: if rape is a trigger for you, you might not want to read this novel.

Disgrace is excellent literary fiction, nonetheless. This was a great page-turner with intelligent, yet tender prose. I will surely read more Coetzee soon. Disgrace takes place in South Africa, but the myriad of sensitive themes addressed are certainly universal to humanity. I give this 4.5 stars. Please read this!

(I got Disgrace from a used book store [Ghana Book Trust] last summer. I found some other gems there too! Check out Challenge Update (summer); Currently Reading to see them).

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Disgrace on Amazon