A novel about working through grief and betrayal

'Called to Song' is a novel about self-discovery and reaching a place where self-esteem and a realisation of what is important can be embraced, writes Margaret von Klemperer

14 May 2019 - 14:29 By Margaret von Klemperer
This may be a universal story, and one that is a staple of fiction, but Mohamed has given it a particularly South African flavour.
This may be a universal story, and one that is a staple of fiction, but Mohamed has given it a particularly South African flavour.
Image: Kwela Books

Published in the Witness: 13/05/2019

Qabila’s marriage to Rashid is a sham: they cohabit, but they talk and live past each other rather than together. They married young – Qabila was pregnant but lost the child, and a later son died of leukaemia. And now they just go through the motions while, despite his denials, Qabila is certain that Rashid is still seeing Thandi, the girlfriend he had when they met.

With the death of Qabila’s beloved mother, things come to a head and Qabila begins to think that divorce is the only option.

But in the close-knit Cape Town Muslim community they inhabit where gossip and schadenfreude are rife, both of them are going to have to run the gauntlet of criticism. And Rashid doesn’t seem to want to see things end.

Kharnita Mohamed’s debut novel is told through the eyes of Qabila as she struggles, after years of tragedy and trying to fit herself into a mould that could never suit her, with the self-discovery that will lead her to a new stage of her life, at last learning what she really wants and finding a route towards it, reactivating old interests in dance, poetry and song that she thought had died with her marriage.

This may be a universal story, and one that is a staple of fiction, but Mohamed has given it a particularly South African flavour.

Qabila has to deal with the casual racism of her academic colleagues as well as that of her own older family members, the claustrophobic but ultimately supportive nature of communities that have been ghettoised by their history and the pull of her religious background, something she had largely ignored while married to Rashid.

Sometimes when dealing with these issues Mohamed’s tone becomes a little didactic, but on the whole she manages to create a thoroughly believable life for her central character.

Called to Song is a novel about self-discovery, about working through grief and betrayal and reaching a place where self-esteem and a realisation of what is important can be embraced. 

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