Monday, 9 July 2012

Lessons in Husbandry by Shaida Kazie Ali | A Memoir of Grief and Hope

I just love it when something unexpected hits me. When my boss asked me to read Lessons in Husbandry I wasn't expecting much. But Shaida Kazie Ali's book caught me completely off guard. The story is beautifully written, the plot grips you from the very first pages, and up until the last page I didn't know how she would pull it all together. But pull it together she does, and I'm now excited to have made the acquaintance of a new, exciting South African voice.

10 years after her sister Amal disappears, Malak is still struggling with coming to terms with the gap left behind. Shortly after the disappearance, Malak agreed to marry Amal's fiance Taj, but their union is solely based on their mutual grief. Encouraged by her partner in Cupcakes, Rakel, Malak start attending writing classes. She'll write about Amal's disappearance, and the novel basically makes up this memoir.

Malak leads a fairly predictable life. Her days are spent making cupcakes, speaking to her husbands "brother" Precious while Taj is busy in his career as a fertility doctor, and paying the regular visits to her mother. Every day bears the absence of her sister. Malak's life is turned upside down when she is stuck in an elevator with a strange man. For the first time, Malak understands the meaning of passion, but she's now caught between two men - neither of who know of the other. Afraid of severing her last ties to her sister, Malak simply cannot leave Taj, but she is also unable to picture a future without Darya in it.

The book is divided into seven chapters, each of which is its own "lesson in husbandry". Each chapter begins in the writing classes, and the different writing exercises they do allow us to dig deeper into the story of Malak and Amal. Not everything they write has to be true, however, which reminds us as readers that Malak could be hiding facts or rewriting the history for all we know. So Lessons in Husbandry is not only a story about grief and love, it is also a novel about writing (which tend to be my favourites). 

I can't emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this book. With a healthy dose of irony and humour, Ali sculpts her novel masterfully. Read it.

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