Book Review: Black skin, white mask

17 May 2016 - 10:29 By Jacqui L'Ange

"Through some unexplainable cosmic gestation a spark of light brightened the world."This line appears midway though a book that also starts like a spark of light in a dark universe, and builds steadily until you're blinded by the power of its message. With the patterns of a praise singer, and the lyricism of a born poet, debut novelist Unathi Magubeni catches you in the rhythm of his story and doesn't let you go until it is spent.Nwelezelanga is an albino girl born in a rural village in a time of tumult - not the political turmoil we are all too familiar with today, but a struggle of cosmic proportions.While forces for good and evil battle it out in celestial realms, the pale young girl, earmarked for torment and ridicule because of her different skin, is betrayed at birth by the midwife who delivers her. The old crone convinces the exhausted new mother that her baby is a bad omen and should be killed. They take her to the Umfolozi River and cast the newborn into the chilly waters below.But Nwelezelanga doesn't die. The midwife was right about one thing - she is special, and her destiny is to bring an urgent message to the ''walking dead"; not zombies, as popular culture would have you think, but ordinary mortals, shuttered as they are by the blinders of the material realm.''There's power in complete surrender. Everything else is secondary. You are connected to the source," Nwelezelanga tells us, as she navigates the perils of her short life.Rescued and raised by a healer who'd been praying for rain near the Mpelazwe waterfall, the girl will have a safe home and a mentor. But they will not always keep her safe from her enemies.Magubeni is a sangoma with a deep knowledge of the world he has created.He pulls back a curtain on cosmic mysticism, and delivers a meditation of the importance of the natural world and our place in it. Nwelezelanga is destined to become a classic.Nwelezelanga: The Star Child by Unathi Magubeni (BlackBird Books), R195

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