Dinah, a fragile blonde asthmatic, "premature and anaemic and sub-standard", attends a Durban girls' school where every pupil is drilled in the codes of prejudice: "Every child has a story about how one day their mother went out and came back home to find that the native girl was drinking out of one of the family's china teacups. The native girl always gets the sack if she's caught and it serves her right.
Nasty stirrings in the tea-leaves
In the meantime, "koelies Indians are a plague in our midst. The girls talk about koelies as if they were like cockroaches. Squash them and they're yellow inside. But everyone already knows that natives smell, so they aren't at all impressed.
In the first few chapters a sense of bemusement dominates as the reader waits for Trapido's plot pyrotechnics to begin. They never arrive - and it is this which will sharply divide opinion. The book obeys none of the narrative conventions of a novel, and in that sense, it frustrates; yet if all expectations of a page-turning Byzantine plot are abandoned, and the clearly highly autobiographical Frankie and Stankie is read instead as a memoir, as a beautifully written slice of both personal and political history, then it forms a remarkable document with a narrative drive of its own.
Taken (Frankie Post, book 1) by L M Pruitt
We are in the era of breathtakingly sadistic teachers, of callipers, polio and iron lungs, of liquid paraffin, Syrup of Figs and cock-a-leekie soup, a world of gingham, tapioca and rick-rack braid. To an English reader, the familiar is fascinatingly interwoven with the alien. Among the flame trees and banana palms, Union Jacks are planted in the flowerbeds, and "home-time on the Berea can look like the Henley Regatta", while the girls lust after "a precious, faggoty English public schoolboy look, complete with washboard chest and Rupert Brooke profile".
This is also a country of gun-happy Afrikaner farmers: "shooting is a popular hobby Sometimes they'll shoot the black housemaid who's coming in with the morning tea, because they think she's an intruder. As ever, Trapido is at her best when describing the intensity of adolescence.
Lisa, Dinah's older sister, strangely is never fully delineated as a character, unlike her memorable friends and lover, but the fabulous Dinah will dedicate several hours to literary criticism of a single issue of Vogue, and at a ball "sits, waiting for the elegant mating dance of literary-verbal interplay, where her partner's intent will merely be to deposit saliva inside her mouth". Love in the time of apartheid is a complicated matter.
As a student during the state of emergency, Dinah is caught between the loveless dating rituals of the era and romance with a politically active history lecturer who never knows when the Special Branch will visit. This type of blatant, vile discrimination really affected me and made me think back to the types of people that I see on the news for being missing.
She manages to capture the teenage voice so perfectly and with such precision that takes your breath away. Instead, everything that occurred felt natural and benefited the plot, intertwining these points of discussion with the overarching story arc and the lives of the characters, all of which were unique and had their own distinct voices.
Told through the honest eyes of a teenage girl desperate to feel loved and understood, Plozza weaves the truths of this unjust, imperfect world into a narrative that not only highlights the importance of being accepted by those around you, but accepting yourself.
- Frankie says something (but surprisingly it’s not ‘relax’).
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Did you fall in love with the characters like I did? Do you think that the issues this novel raised are ones we should talk about more?
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Thank you to Penguin Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! You are commenting using your WordPress.
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Just one more chapter…
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