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Book Bites: 22 July

Published in the Sunday Times

When Morning Comes
***
Arushi Raina, Jacana, R195

This fictionalised account of the lead up to the student uprising in June 1976 is relayed through the experience of four central characters. And it is gripping. Raina has managed to bring to life one of the most painful episodes in our history in a way that neither detracts from nor glamorises the time. All the characters will stay with you. There’s Zanele, the wilful leader and daughter of a domestic worker; Meena, the curious observer and daughter of an Indian shopkeeper; Jack, the white boy from the ’burbs; and Thabo, the schoolboy-turned-tsotsi.

Each take their turn in narrating the reality of their surroundings and how their lives and that of their families and friends are affected by the apartheid government, and the chain of events that is set in motion leading to the student uprising. Zodwa Kumalo @Zoddies

White Houses
*****
Amy Bloom, Granta, R285

There is a hefty disclaimer at the start of this book and another at the end of it, both stating that even though the story features real historical figures, everything in it is entirely fictional. This double warning is clearly meant to stop readers from being beguiled by the Eleanor Roosevelt presented by her lover Lorena Hickok, and to prevent us from warming to the eloquent, acerbic “Hick” herself.

It doesn’t work. White Houses is far too well written to allow for that sort of distance to be maintained. It grabs your throat from the first line – “No love like old love” – and holds on until the delicate Gatsbyesque glitter of the ending. In public, Roosevelt was a remarkable woman who should have been US president instead of her charming rogue of a husband. In private, she was a siren in blue, lovely and unattainable as a comet.

Hick carefully unfolds their story with mesmerising elegance, her pain cushioned by pragmatism. Of course none of it really happened, as it says in the disclaimers. But you will still live through every moment of it with them. Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

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