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A nation crippled by inner agonies: Dineo Tsamelo reviews Kopano Matlwa’s Period Pain

Period PainPeriod Pain
Kopano Matlwa (Jacana)

Harrowing. This is not the first impression you get when you crack open Period Pain and are introduced to a young, naive and very religious Masechaba, but her view of the world later darkens when she becomes an adult.

Kopano Matlwa flits between the past and the present of Masechaba’s life, which allows the novel to marry the protagonist’s own struggle with her period — she has a faulty uterus — while using it as a metaphor to describe the state of our country.

Period Pain tears apart the notion of South Africa as a rainbow nation. Through dialogue with God and letters to her dead brother, Masechaba unpacks the daily injustices she is faced with as a doctor in a government hospital. The author takes you into the heart of the country’s socio-political issues, tackling gender, race, class and xenophobia.

Masechaba’s life reflects the state of the country. On the outside, she appears to have it together but her life is governed by her inexplicable condition and her mental health. This comes across as commentary on the state of South Africa — a country marred by tragedy, facing many difficulties, but somehow appearing to the world as if all is well.

Matlwa brings class under the spotlight and digs into attitudes among elite and educated black people about foreigners and the have-nots. She ventures deeper into the rot of society with her take on corrective rape and rape culture. The scenes are a raw punch to the gut.

Through Masechaba Matlwa holds a mirror up to the reader, forcing us to come to terms with our attitudes about poor people and foreigners. We have to ask ourselves: “How complicit have I been?”

Matlwa has grown as a writer and with Period Pain she is finally coming into her own. The plot is clear and the story is complete. At no point does the reader feel cheated. — Dineo Tsamelo @DineoTsamela

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