BOOK REVIEW: I WANT TO GO HOME FOREVER.
WHAT IS A story? Knock on the scholarship of Carl Gustav Jung and you’ll discover that there are basically seven narrative plots in the world. Look at the ongoing repertoire of some children’s theatres and you may believe that there is a limit to stories that can be heard or told or loved. In I want to go home forever, editors Loren Landau and Tanya Pampalone present a beautiful, deeply readable yet tough anthology of 13 stories that fly in the face of hyper-used narrative and segue journalism, truth and opinion into a collection of potent gems in the words of ordinary people.
These are not fictional tales subject to whimsy, however. They are the true accounts of South Africans in a world that has teetered with the anger of xenophobia, crumpling the boundaries of what ‘home’ means in a way that bruises and scars. They’re stories told through the medium of seasoned journalists and photojournalists, offering you, the reader, a clear insight into the scattered dreams, the rush and tumble, the moral complexities and the paths of healing that people who live in hostels and townships, in makeshift situations and run down hotels, tell their story.
Rather than a crudely journalistic exercise complete with the journalist’s political edge or crusading tendencies slung snidely in among the sadness, the work is stripped of journalese. It’s stripped of “academese”, and the journalists’ presences are cropped down to a couple of asides, giving context to the stories. The journalists’ skills are pushed to the hilt, however, in their ability to translate the original texts into an English which flows with a sense of the real, but doesn’t force the narrators to break their proverbial teeth in speaking in a language far from their mother tongues.
They’re brutal stories, difficult to read for their horror – from the accounts told by a mother over her murdered teenaged son’s body, to the options presented to a talented soccer player who is forced, by circumstances to do sex work, to the values expressed by a man whose business was pillaged to the ground, under the cover of xenophobic violence – but each contains an engaging candour that gives these ordinary folk vocality that speaks its truth, quietly and without interface.
You may not necessarily agree with the values articulated by the different people telling the stories, but that doesn’t matter. These are their words. Their experiences. Their spotlight. And as you read them, you understand news items from within. You get to reach the privileged position of resting your foot in another’s shoe, if just for a moment. And it changes everything. Couched in a collection which is easy on the hand and robust on the heart and soul, this series of stories is about the flaws in South Africa’s democracy and the courage of its people. And from an original narrative perspective, it is gold. These are also the stories that we should be telling our children.
- I want to go home forever: Stories of becoming and belonging in South Africa’s great metropolis edited by Loren B Landau and Tanya Pampalone is published by Wits University Press, Johannesburg (2018). With a foreword by Karabo K Kgoleng, the work features stories told by Estifanos Worku Abeto, Lufuno Gogoro, Azam Khan, Charalabos Koulaxizis, Kopano Lebelo, Lucas Machel, Manyathela Mvelase, Chichi Ngozi, Nombuyiselo Ntlane, Papi Thetele and Ntombi Theys and interviewers Ragi Bashonga, Suzy Bernstein, Ryan Lenora Brown, Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, Eliot Moleba, Dudu Ndlovu, Oupa Nkosi, Thandiwe Ntshinga, Tanya Pampalone, Nedson Pophiwa, Greta Schuler, Kwanele Sosibo, Tanya Zack with photographs by Madelene Cronjé, Mark Lewis and Oupa Nkosi.