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All We Have Left Unsaid

by Maxine Case

Reviewer: Margot Brooks

“Forgetting is easy. It is remembering that is hard.” As Danika keeps vigil at her mother’s hospital bed she faces the silences that pervade her past and present. As she confronts the silent memories of her father’s absence and disappearance from her life, she attempts to piece together the juxtaposed pieces of love, abandonment, political struggle and confusion. In re-discovering her childhood she realises the hold her memories have over her and how her turbulent past has created her present pain.

As she considers the barren landscape of her life, she tries to make sense of her father’s abandonment, her mother’s struggle to survive as well as her country’s struggle to survive, as South Africans deal with the state of emergency. These events as seen through the eyes of a child are re-visited by the adult Danika in an attempt to make sense of them and to find some meaning in her life.

In her reflection on her relationships with the women in her life: her mother, sister, and grandmother, she discovers the strength these women revealed in surviving the cruel oppressions life in South Africa imposed. The confinement of a combination of the apartheid government and male dominance that women were subjected to, allowed atrocities to occur and appear as commonplace events. The depiction of Danika as a little girl watching through the keyhole of her parent’s door as her father whips her mother is horrific and scars the girl to the extent that she struggles to maintain her relationships as an adult. Yet this incident is never referred to again. As she watches her mother’s descent into a coma, she wishes she could ask her about that night, just as she wishes she could talk about the baby her mother lost and how this affected the family. Her mother’s attempted suicide is another traumatic incident that is immersed in silence.

Danika remembers how sad she was when her father departed so suddenly and they never see him again. But as time goes by she realises how happy their home has become since his departure. They have discovered the beauty of lightness, which his oppressive, drunken, abusive presence blotted out. Yet we are able to feel a measure of sympathy for this man who has himself suffered under the limitations imposed on his race.

As an adult Danika emerges from this cathartic experience more connected to her past and able to understand far more than she ever did. Her relationship with her sister and distant aunt comfort her and she is able to acknowledge that: “My truth is all I need “

This is a beautiful first novel told with a poignancy that reveals the pain and re-birth of a character scarred by her experiences but ultimately hopeful. This narrative of the past is made an affirming experience as the writer/protagonist acknowledges the value this introspective time and begins to lay her ghosts to rest. It will speak to a great many South Africans of the post-apartheid generation.

Last Modified: Fri, 31 Mar 2017 12:05:04 SAST