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Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night by Sindiwe Magona (thoughts)

November 7, 2011


I have had marvelous luck with every South African author I’ve tried; Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night by Sindiwe Magona is no exception. It’s a short story collection in two parts: the first part is interlinked, telling stories from the viewpoints of various black ‘domestics’ who all know each other, while the second part is the more ‘random,’ standard short story collection model. The book is united by Magona’s incredible writing, wonderful characterisations, and ability to call attention to systemic wrongs (this collection was published in 1991, and is thus set entirely in apartheid times) without her characters becoming political mouthpieces. That last is a rare talent, and probably the thing that impressed me most about this very impressive book.

Magona herself worked as a domestic in Cape Town while pursuing her education, and that background really informs the first part. Each of the women felt so real, and their various experiences and voices were utterly convincing. All too often in fiction (of various geographic and temporal settings), servants appear only at the margins of a story, so it was wonderful to see them as protagonists here. In fact, I thought of Amy and Amanda’s The Real Help Project, which is based on a statement by the Association of Black Women Historians.

Most importantly, though, Magona brought me to her South Africa. I read so many international authors because I want to have a peek into lives lived around the world, and as a way to pursue my passion for travel when my life circumstances don’t allow me to do the real thing very often. And from that point of view, I found every page of Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night satisfying: there’s no exoticisation for a Western audience, just a firm sense of place grounded in Cape Town and its surroundings.

I fear that I’ve gotten a bit rusty on writing my thoughts on books, but I hope I’ve managed to convey a bit of my love for this gem! It’s quite short (about one hundred sixty pages), so you could read it in a sitting or two, but I promise you’ll be thinking about it for long afterwards. I definitely want to read more of Magona’s books soon: I suspect further acquaintance with her works will only deepen my respect. Definitely future favourite author material!

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2011 8:29 am

    Thanks for this introduction to Sindiwe Magona and I keep meaning to read A Human Being Died That Night. It’s been on my TBR list since you first wrote about it!

  2. November 7, 2011 8:32 am

    This book sounds wonderful! I’ve been looking to include some South African writers in my reading lineup, and this looks like a great one to add. I love that the sense of place was strong, but the political angle was minimized. Looks like a solid and realistic portrayal.

    • November 9, 2011 10:39 am

      I wouldn’t say the political angle was minimised, just that the characters felt like real people rather than strawmen. :) There’s definitely a lot of politics, but of the ‘this is how apartheid affected daily life’ variety.

  3. Chelsea permalink
    November 7, 2011 9:22 am

    One of my thesis advisers was from South Africa, and this book was one of the first he plopped in to my hand when I was going my research on race and the lasting ramifications of the apartheid. It’s so awesome to see it getting some much-deserved touting elsewhere! Glad to have you back, Eva – you were and are always missed around the blogosphere.

  4. November 7, 2011 12:03 pm

    Definitely with you on your reason fr reading international writers. Very cool.

  5. November 7, 2011 3:06 pm

    It is wonderful that you travel through your reading Eva. One day you will be able to travel again but in the meantime you can go so many places through your reading. Hope you will have a wonderful week!

    • November 9, 2011 10:40 am

      My mom and I are going to central Mexico next year! I’m hoping it’s the first in an annual tradition of international trips. :D

  6. November 8, 2011 1:18 am

    I love South African literature! I recently finished a collection of short stories written by South African women writers and loved it. This one sounds great too- I’ll definetly add it to my to-be-read list :)

  7. November 8, 2011 6:01 am

    this sounds wonderful Eva ,going down on my wishlist ,all the best stu

  8. November 8, 2011 8:28 am

    Ah man, this one is at my library. But there are two others by this author that I’ll have to try!

    The only South African authors I’ve read are Alan Paton (who is Afrikaans) and Bessie Head who is quite intriguing. Have you read Bessie Head yet? I only read Maru but I have some of her short stories on my shelf.

    • November 9, 2011 10:41 am

      My library didn’t have it either, I had to ILL it. But it does have her memoir/autobiography and one of her novels (something about mothers & sons?). They must be her two favourites!

      I actually haven’t read Paton OR Head yet. There are so many great South African authors out there to explore!

  9. November 9, 2011 8:16 am

    Yes, I think you managed to get you love of this book across. I know you damn sure made me want to get my hands on it as soon as possible!

  10. November 10, 2011 10:05 am

    Yay thanks for the plug to our project, and also for reminding me to pick this off my shelf and read it! Sounds absolutely fantastic.

  11. November 23, 2011 3:28 am

    One of my favorite African books! So glad you read and loved it.

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