Once a while I read a book and at the end (or past the end) I think: this book could do with a reread, once or twice or even more. This book, written by the South African author Achmat Sangor, is one of those books. To discover and rediscover the layers in this book, the interactions, the human sadness. Sometimes it happens that I do not take a re-read because I think that the second reading might have a different result. I prefer the good memories, instead of a new confrontation.
This books sets us right in the middle of the complexities of race and identity in the South African of racial and human divides. Just before the entrance of the book we find three short genealogies of three families. Members of these families meet and interact and disassociate. We read about Boer, Indian, white, black , coloured, jew and muslim. We read about the attempt to move from one section in society to another, in order to be part of a ‘higher’ section of the establishment.
Central in the book is the estranged couple Anna Wallace and Oscar Kahn. The husband used to be Omar Khan. He has shifted to a Jewish identity, with the hope of an upward mobility. He becomes an architect. Around these people we see relatives and hangers-on and a female therapist. In all these people and their interactions we see the complexities of a system that cannot hold. A system in which people get lost, like characters in a book by the Chech writer Franz Kafka. Everyone attempts to find the way-out in this human and societal and political labyrinth.
For a number of characters their life ends in the year 1996. But the divides in society will not be erased in that year. Old barriers were brought down, but new barriers were erected. So many people still want to be on the right side of the divides, be they societal, colourful or pecuniary.
Achmat Dangor – Kafka’s curse – 1997