CBR10BINGO: Under Represented
This past weekend, I went to a family wedding where my first cousin’s daughter was one of the brides. I have a complicated relationship with most of my family, but the one person with whom I’ve always felt closest is this cousin. I was able to go a day early and got to spend some extra time with just her and her husband. The subject of birthdays came up, with mine just a few days away, and I told her that I’ve never paid much attention to them until the last few years as I approach the age my mother was when she died. Only then did we both realize that she actually is that age now, and we were both a bit stunned.
My mother had also been on my mind because I had just finished reading What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, which tackles the same subject: losing one’s mother far too young to illness. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to this book, in addition to being written by a woman of color and taking place, in part, in and around Johannesburg. How unfortunate, then, that I didn’t really care for it.
The main story centers on the death of the narrator’s mother to cancer. The narrator was in college at the time, and everything in her life, including her memories, pivots on that one defining moment.
I don’t have more to say about the actual story because there just isn’t much there. It’s hard to get a foothold since it’s presented in fragments of a few pages at a time, or a few paragraphs, sometimes even just a single line, with the occasional photo or illustration. The sparse narrative was further confounded by additional facts thrown in about South Africa’s past and present (along with other things I don’t remember) that could have been interesting had they been integrated with the story, but instead, they just felt like inedible garnish on the plate: nice to look at but unfulfilling.
The end result was a superficial and oddly cold book given the subject matter. The narrator wasn’t given a name until more than halfway through, and her mother was never named at all. Instead of feeling intimate, it felt somewhat narcissistic, as if this woman’s life had no meaning beyond her role as the narrator’s mother. I found myself unable to decide whether this was a well-intentioned miss or a pretentious mess. As with all art, it comes down to personal taste. From this review, you can probably guess which way I’m leaning.