By Ayesha Kajee for the Sunday Times
Diary of a Guji Girl
Qaanitah Hunter (Wordflute Press)
Diary of a Guji Girl, Hunter’s blog-turned-novel, has become something of a publishing phenomenon, with the blog having received over two million views and the novel selling 500 copies in its first week. Hunter, a political journalist, began the blog as a light-hearted, somewhat tongue-in-cheek collage of people and events she’d encountered, and was astounded (albeit gratefully so) by its popularity.
Amina, the protagonist, is a sheltered young woman from a small town who arrives in Johannesburg to study teaching, interspersed with cooking lessons to ensure that her culinary skills are acceptable to prospective suitors. Her appetite for fashionable (though modest) clothes shopping is rivalled only by her predilection for juicy gossip. She is clear that her end-goal, in attending university, is to marry a “nice boy”. Thus far, standard Bollywood movie stuff, not excluding her secret crush on handsome and super-rich Moe, who hails from her hometown.
The novel tracks Amina’s emergence from a blinkered, materialistic and somewhat narcissistic girlhood into a woman who values true friendship and questions the shallow ideals that she once unhesitatingly adopted.
It also provides illuminating insights into Muslim communities in South Africa, exposing pervasive stereotypes around race, gender, culture and class, as well as underlining the tendency to conflate cultural practices with religion. Hunter has a gift for comic characterisation and is obviously a great mimic. She inserts the drollest comments into her characters’ mouths, and the colloquialisms that pepper the novel make for side-splitting hilarity at times. Her graphic portrayals of “samoosa runs” (visits by prospective bridegrooms to the homes of marriageable girls) and the challenges of producing rotis that do not resemble maps of Africa are deftly juxtaposed with Amina’s inner fantasies of her Big Houghton Dream – an opulent lifestyle with a desirable and doting spouse.
Judging from comments on the blog, I must admit to a serious concern that much of Guji Girl’s audience appears to have missed Hunter’s satirical intent and have instead wholeheartedly embraced the insular prejudices and conspicuous consumption espoused by the protagonist early on. Nonetheless, it is abundantly clear that, if her debut novel is anything to go by, much can be expected from Hunter’s keenly observant pen in the future.
Follow Ayesha on Twitter @ayeshakajee
- Diary of a Guji Girl by Qaanitah Hunter
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