Blackness, history & love · Books · Gender · Political

Transformed Knowings

The SabiThe Sabi by Diane Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“… each hoping that things will get better as we find our way back to ubuntu

Brown’s story is fraught with violence, all of it growing out of colonisation and colonial power struggles in South Africa (all the way back to the Boer war, which I knew next to nothing about before). That abused people and groups become abusive, that violence and hate seem to have to go somewhere, whether outward or inward, are bleak knowings that emerge from this book. Yet the love Brown speaks of, for her husband, her friends, her daughter, and for music, seems deep and sweet powerful enough, angled through her, to somehow, some day, defeat all of that violence and bitterness.

On the significance of hair as a hierarchy-marker in White supremacy Brown is very informative. She also briefly discusses the economic effects of apartheid-based infrastructure planning policies, which is something I’d never thought of, but must, as a persisting structure, make it more difficult to dismantle segregation.

The language of this book made it difficult for me at first. The difference between the South African English used by Brown and the literary British & US English I am more used to made her sentences seem clunky, stilted, and the words and expressions didn’t flow. This barrier soon dissolved, partly because I was compelled by her story, and I found that I began to have a rare experience: I ‘heard’ the voice of the author speaking as I read, which made me empathise with her more strongly, as if we were talking on the phone.

Towards the end of the book she speaks about her writing and experience of flow. For me this is more evident in her style than in any other author’s: sections of the book feel deliberate, laborious, putting one word in front of another, while others, particularly when she describes moments of love and joy, seem as fluid and musical as song.

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