BOOK BITES | Sivosethu Ndubela, Khurrum Rahman, Peter Swanson

An extraordinary story about a township girl who overcame her challenges, a fast-paced novel which explores second-generation immigrants' experiences in London and a clever, electric domestic noir - here's what we read this week

07 April 2019 - 00:00
Homegrown Hero, Before She Knew Him.
Miracle Girl, Homegrown Hero, Before She Knew Him.
Image: Supplied

Published in the Sunday Times (07/04/2019)

Miracle Girl: Life Stories from a Xhosa Girl ***
Sivosethu Ndubela & Tony Pearce, Pan Macmillan, R95

Vovo's story is that of an ordinary girl who has endured extraordinary challenges and emerged victorious. Orphaned at 13, having grown up in poverty near Port Elizabeth, she is diagnosed with a rare heart condition (caused by untreated strep throat) leading to open-heart surgery. Her book is filled with raw emotion, but there's humour as well in her cultural "did you know" bits, which make for interesting conversation starters next time you're in the company of Xhosa people. Chrizelda Kekana @Chrizelda_kay

Homegrown Hero ****
Khurrum Rahman, Harper Collins, R310

Rahman's debut novel East of Hounslow gave us Javid Qasim, a British-born Muslim of Pakistani ancestry who reluctantly becomes an informant for MI5 and thwarts a terror attack on London. In this sequel, Qasim has exited the secret service in search of the quiet life. He works at a call centre and is in a complicated relationship with a white divorcée when MI5 decide to bring him back into play. They're hoping to use Qasim to flush out The Teacher, the leader of the group he previously infiltrated. The terrorists, meanwhile, have activated a sleeper agent and tasked him with assassinating Qasim. Fast-paced and with wry insights on how even second-generation immigrants can struggle in a secular, sometimes hostile, city like London to find a place for the cultural and religious mores of the lands from which their families originally came. William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

Before She Knew Him *****
Peter Swanson, Faber & Faber, R290

It would seem impossible to top The Girl with a Clock for a Heart or A Kind Worth Killing, but Swanson gets better with every thriller he writes. This one is set in a middle-class neighbourhood in Massachusetts. Hen and Lloyd connect with neighbours Matthew and Mira as they are the only two childless couples on the street. But after a dinner one night, Hen sees a trophy in Matthew's study. She recognises it as belonging to a young man who was killed two years ago - a murder she was obsessed with. She knows Matthew is the killer, maybe even a serial killer, but she struggles to get people to believe her because of her past mental instability. This is clever, electric domestic noir. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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