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••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - Book Reviews

An Imperfect Blessing by Nadia Davids
Publisher: Umuzi 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4152-0769-7
• Sam Hawksmoor

An Imperfect Blessing

Recently sent to me as a gift by Sabine in Cape Town I knew it would be a special book.
Set in the year 1993 in South Africa on the verge of political transition to African rule, fourteen-year-old Alia Dawood, the youngest daughter in a Cape Town Muslim family on the Walmer Estate is trying to make sense of the world around her, experiencing her first love and negotiating family pressures and tensions.

As I read this novel became almost jealous of the tender, warm, sometimes fraught lives of the Dawoods – Nadia Davids has made them so real you want to pop in for tea and discuss politics, their fears for the future and worries over family members.  Alia’s sister Nasreen is more sure of herself in this world and protective of her sister. Their Uncle Waleed, the ‘radical’ is a worry, procrastinating over his PhD and wanting to be relevant in the ‘struggle’, but life in Cape Town is, as always, a ritual of get togethers, feasts, duties, rivalries. 

Life in Walmer Estate, a city village pressed up against the De Waal Drive Highway above Salt River and nearby Observatory is full of families decanted from District Six – one of the more wicked clearances by the Nationalists where they literally erased a whole community. The scar is still visible. They have learned to live with this, adapt, each indignity making them stronger not weaker.  But nevertheless, Alia and Nasreen, now schooled in a private White School develop their own ideas about what justice is and what is important to them.

The story takes places at an explosive time.  Assassinations, the imminent rise of Nelson Mandela always in the background, but life goes on. Alia has fallen for Nick, a Christian boy much to her father’s distress, this is her story and her youthful appraisal of the people around her. It’s a time of hope and fear for the future.

Nasreen and Alia leaving the scene of Chris Hani funeral:
'There was something unsettling familiar about it. Then she recognised the staccato chant of unseeen marchers, and with them the first bars of the soundtrack of a riot: the slam of thousands of feet against the pavement, the screech of police vans, the sirens, the incantations. Tja! Tra-tja! Tja! Tja-tja!
She knew then that the city had tured in on itself, heaved, roared , broken loose...

It’s charming, strongly visual, completely engaging, with beautifully crafted writing. You do not have to fear it being too political or set in a world outside your familiar. It’s family life and one of the most acutely observed portraits of individuals banded together by blood I have read. 

© Sam Hawksmoor June 9th 2021
author of 'We Feel Your Pain'

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