Alistair Mackay’s ‘The Child’: the queering of post-apartheid identity and belonging

14 June 2024 - 12:01 By Shaun Lunga
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by Alistair Mackay.
The Child by Alistair Mackay.
Image: Supplied

The Child
Alistair Mackay
Kwela Books 

In Alistair Mackay’s latest novel, The Child, readers are taken on a poignant journey through the complexities of identity, belonging and the pursuit of love in post-apartheid South Africa. Set against the backdrop of a married queer couple’s decision to return to their homeland from New York, the narrative delves into issues of inequality, adoption and mental health with a delicate touch and profound insight.

At the heart of the story are Adrian and the unnamed narrator, two white men grappling with the desire to adopt a child. While Adrian is eager, it’s the unnamed narrator who emerges as a complex figure, wrestling with his own emotional turmoil and self-doubt. He navigates his existence as a white liberal with a keen awareness of the social and political landscape, yet finds himself teetering on the edge of self-destruction as he confronts his mental-health struggles.

Mackay’s portrayal of his characters is marked by a deep sense of empathy and self-awareness. Through their interactions, he prompts readers to reflect on the nature of marriage, queer identity, and the pursuit of love in a world fraught with challenges and uncertainties. As the narrator grapples with his desires and shortcomings, readers are invited to contemplate the meaning of belonging and the healing power of human connection.

In his writing, Mackay demonstrates a level of care and consideration for his characters reminiscent of literary greats such as JM Coetzee and Damon Galgut. His observations of post-apartheid South Africa are nuanced and thought-provoking, offering a glimpse into the complexities of race, class, and privilege in a society still grappling with its turbulent past.

The Child is a tender and beautifully written exploration of the frayed edges of identity and healing, not just for its young queer protagonist, but for all who dare to confront the complexities of the human experience. Mackay’s novel is a propulsive journey that will linger in the minds of readers long after the final page is turned.

Overall, The Child is a remarkable achievement, showcasing Mackay’s talent for crafting deeply affecting narratives that resonate with readers on a profound level. It is a testament to the power of storytelling.

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