For the Joy of Reading: The Texture of Shadows

The Texture of Shadows is an extraordinary book.   This does not mean that it is comfortable to read.   Or an easy read.   It most decidedly is not, and it was clearly not the intention of the author that it should be so..   This is a book that has emerged from deep within the struggle against apartheid, and is informed by the author’s own involvement in that struggle.

This is a book that is intended to shock, to make you think about the consequences of becoming involved on an individual basis in an armed struggle.   It is intended to make you think about the psychological impact of being involved in violence, on the best of people and the worst of people.   And there is no question about its success in this objective.   None whatsoever.

It is through the characters that Mandla Langa brings us to an understanding of the effects of violence, of how debilitating it is, of how damaging, and how it has consequences for the whole society.   There is Nerissa who is investigating how an underground mission went wrong.   There is General January who is knowingly sending soldiers to their deaths.   There is Ngobese who is struggling to survive as an underground agent.   There is Colonel Stander who was fighting to save the apartheid state, but is now more concerned with saving his own skin.   And there is Strella who is, quite simply, a psychopath.   The story revolves around how these five interact with each other and the other characters in the story, of the effect that they have upon each other, and how they are building blocks for the new South Africa.

The tale is set very recognisably in the townships at a particular time in the history of South Africa.   For those of us who were there it has a certain frisson, a certain verisimilitude that others will have to accept as breathtakingly accurate.   It evokes that moment in history in a way that cannot be otherwise described.   It brings a particular time to life, with all its hopes and fears.

It is not a story for those who want to feel comfortable or safe.   It is not a story for those who want to believe that one side are the heroes and the other, the villains.   It is not a story for those who want to believe that “they all lived happily ever after”.

This is a story that understands that people who are on the right side are not perfect.   It understands that people are damaged in the process of achieving liberation.   It understands that mistakes are made and that we have to live with the consequences of those mistakes.   It understands that we are human, and we are flawed, and that even when we are right, we will not be right in everything.   And that we must pick up the pieces and carry on.

This is above all a deeply human book.   It acknowledges our frailty.   But it is also a paean of praise to our idealism, our tenacity and our compassion.   This is a book that shines a torch upon the human condition.   It will help you to understand our world.

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