Fiction brings women's stories into the light

This is a story about women helping women. "I was just writing what I know," says Kubuitsile. "Women then and women now have a tough life."

02 July 2019 - 11:37 By Tiah Beautement

Published in the Sunday Times (30/06/2019)

But Deliver Us from Evil *****
Lauri Kubuitsile, Penguin, R270

This book grabs you by the throat and burrows down into your soul. The characters are so alive - flawed, damaged, yet survivors - that you find yourself forgiving their mistakes and cheering them on, even as you question their motives.

Lauri Kubuitsile has achieved this by creating Beatrice, from the Koranaa people. "She's a wild-hearted woman," Kubuitsile says, "and I wish I was one too."

Yet the story did not begin with Beatrice, but Nthebolang, the other main character. She was born in the author's imagination when, while doing research for The Scattering (Kubuitsile's previous book), she came upon a letter written by Kgosi Sechele to the Setswana newspaper that was published out of the mission at Kuruman in the 1880s. It was about 25 women who were accused of being witches by a girl working as a servant for the local missionary.

With no further information to be found about the girl, Kubuitsile allowed her imagination to bloom. So Nthebolang is the story of a young girl who, along with her mother, is cast out of their village after Nthebolang's father is murdered for supposed witchcraft.

Setting out on their own, the pair eventually find uneasy refuge with Kgosi Sechele's people as servants for the resident missionary. It is here that Nthebolang's path crosses that of the tenacious Beatrice, who has found herself trapped in marriage to Thomas Milner, a narcissistic white minister. But Beatrice has no plans to allow this to be her life forever, and she's also determined to save Nthebolang.

This is a story about women helping women. "I was just writing what I know," says Kubuitsile. "Women then and women now have a tough life. Strong women with agency over their lives were always there despite what historians tell us. If the so-called factual history refuses to bring them into the light, I will do it in my fiction."

What makes these characters so special is that there are no saccharine moments or romanticism. Even motherhood gets put under the harsh glare of reality.

"I find motherhood problematic," Kubuitsile says, "especially the imposed boxes society hands us when we take up that title. Mothers smile and pretend that all is as society expects it to be, to even hint that it's otherwise is seen as abnormal and evil. But things are otherwise; in fact they are always otherwise."

Otherwise or not, But Deliver Us from Evil is a must-read. @ms_tiahmarie