Farida Karodia, A Shattering of Silence – A Review

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“Have you ever wished there was someone you could talk to about what happened? Have you ever tried, only to hold back at the last moment because you didn’t know what they would think of you afterwards?” This is a line from Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s short fiction piece, The Weight of Silence. I read this tonight, after an entire month of contemplating how to write this review, biting my lips over what I would focus on, wondering what I would leave out so it was less clunky. All this and not having it be too personal. I needed to first find a way to detach myself from the story before I could write it down.

For a long time before I read this book I had confined myself to silence. Just as in Ibrahim’s story, my tongue was tied, it refused to untangle, and the worst of it was that with each day I felt bits of life seeping through my pores, evaporating into thin air, never to again return. I bought a copy of Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia shortly after reading The Shattering of Silence. I opened a random page, thirty-nine, and something buried under all those unsaid words said: “speak, dear child.”

”I had lost everything: my parents, my home, my memory and my ability to speak.” [17]

But this review is not about Tumelo, rather about Faith – a young girl who’s childhood is shattered when she witnesses a massacre in her village in rural Mozambique. She escapes, but loses everything. A Shattering of Silence charts Faith’s quest to find a place for herself in war-torn Mozambique, where she is caught between the white colonials and the local resistance. Karodia’s fast-moving novel undermines traditional views of the role of women and the nature of resistance. It is a spirited response to the brutalising effects of war.

Now that I’ve covered what the book is about (last paragraph entirely copied from the back cover), I can now write down how it made me feel.

At first all I felt was loss. I felt that loss had come to define Faith and her childhood. The effects of war had taken away every person she had grown close to. They all would either leave or disappear. She thus learned early on not to hold on too tight, to expect loss to knock at your door on any given day, to recite the lyrics of Tshepo Tshola’s Ho Lokile in your sleep.

For a while things seemed to be going a lot better than they had in a long time, but from experience I knew that one could not take anything for granted. Life had a way of turning on those who were too content, and I lived with the constant anxiety that whatever little bit of happiness I had could be wrested from me at any time. [48]

Faith is white, her parents were white, and yet she knows not the meaning of this until such a time when she experiences privilege first hand. When she is sent to an orphanage where she is lodged and fed and can play around with the option of adoption. There was a point where I thought of a little boy at a Mozambican refugee camp in the film based on Solomon Mahlangu’s book, Kalushi. Coca-cola was his name. When Faith cannot sleep at night because of a wailing that comes from the dilapidated building right next to the orphanage, she goes out with a torch to investigate, and finds children stacked on top of one another for warmth; the room stinking of excretion. The way Karodia describes the children’s eyes when they noticed her there, that was Coca-cola when Solomon had to leave him behind at that refugee camp; a void of hopelessness.

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The order no longer held the same appeal for me. The veil of mystique had been ripped away. All I saw was the way the nuns were oppressed by a Church dominated by priests whose power was absolute.  The Church – namely, the men – determined how convents would be run. They determined what nuns would wear. Only they could give Communion, making themselves indispensable. Nineteenth-century priests who cared nothing for the comfort and well-being of nuns had designed the habit, with all its cumbersome, clumsy features. The church treated nuns like children, withholding their meagre salaries out of spite, determining that particular friendship would encourage homosexuality, while the priests themselves made clumsy sexual advances. [74]

Karodia highlights the role played by religion, Catholics in this instance, in reinforcing privilege and racial divide in colonial contexts. She also uses Faith’s stay in a convent to explore sexuality. Where faith becomes friends with Sister Angelique and is chastised for this she starts to question why a warmth she experiences in Sister Angelique’s company is so wrong. This is also when Faith seems to grow a conscious, where she starts feeling she should take control of her life and stop being dependent on the people she has come to love, and lose.

What stood out most for me in the book was the sense of pride that black Mozambicans hold. Throughout the book there are examples of rebellion against colonialism, against religion, against patriarchy, against child trafficking and slavery, all from the people that Faith encounters. Their voices are resonant because she has none of her own. These voices are restless and rebellious at a time when a lot is being done to silence them. They do not back down, always looking forward to a time when things will change, and in them Faith eventually finds her voice.

‘I have applied to the institute,’ Rita told me. ‘I hope they will accept me to do my nursing there as well. But the problem is that the positions are for assimilados,’ she said, referring to indigenous Mozambicans, educated and prosperous enough to gain acceptance among the Portuguese, who had pledged their allegiance to the colonial power. ‘I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can give up my identity, even for this. Being an assimilado means denying my heritage and becoming like the Portuguese. I am black. I am Mozambican. I am not Portuguese.’ [75]

What starts off as a case of childhood trauma, blossoms into an effort to change the lives of children in war-torn countries. Faith eventually finds peace when she works to save the lives of those that have been stripped of all rights in a country of their own. A Shattering of Silence was not just an important history lesson on the effects of colonialism and war on Mozambique (also how our apartheid government contributed to this), it also presented examples of intricacies in our lives that drive us to silence, and those that give back our voices.

For pieces of text that stood for us in the book, visit our goodreads account.

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