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‘A born storyteller’ – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Ekow Duker’s latest book, The God Who Made Mistakes

First published in The Witness

The God Who Made MistakesYou get the feeling as you read his vigorous, sparky prose that his writing is what gives the author – oilfield engineer turned banker turned data analyst – the most pleasure. Ekow Duker is a born storyteller.

His latest novel begins with a corpse lying on a riverbank in Alexandra township. And when we get to the funeral, it is obvious no-one thinks the late Sipho Sibanda will be guaranteed a place in heaven. Then Duker’s tale fast-forwards to a time when a child who had wept at Sipho’s coffin is now a lawyer, living away from Alex with his wife, also a lawyer. Themba and Ayanda would seem to have made it – prestigious jobs, suburban home and all the trimmings. But things are perhaps not quite as good as they seem on the surface. The marriage is in trouble: Themba finds solace in a male-only book club; Ayanda in the dance-floor arms of her white dancing partner.

Meanwhile, the formidable and censorious Differentia, Themba’s mother, has received an offer for her house in Alex. The developer, who knew Themba (both in a social and Biblical sense) in their days at university, wants to demolish it so that he can develop the site for a mall. Most of the neighbours are delighted at the idea, but Differentia isn’t so sure. Much more enthusiastic are her disgraced teacher son Bongani and her backyard tenant, Tinyiko, who have their own reasons for trying to persuade her one way or the other.

As the narrative shifts between the viewpoints of the various characters, Duker creates sympathy for both Themba and Ayanda. They are flawed, but real, and both deserve the reader’s pity for the situations they find themselves in as they struggle to control their lives. The author explores relationships, both marital and familial, and, perhaps most tellingly, contemporary attitudes to homosexuality in black society. There are moments when The God Who Made Mistakes is bleak, moments when it is funny, and all the time it is a very human story.

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