e unknown story by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday. The west has been glad to have an icon to savage. In China itself they seem unsure. It is about unpacking the hidden history. We all have a hidden history, as individuals and especially as families. For us lesser mortals, it happens at the time, at the funeral gathering and the burial. Friends and family share and unpack the dead one’s life, while packing them away, till judgement day. I have to say ‘it used to be the way with Shona custom’ [more in hope than belief] that the dead person’s remaining property would be divided up and life goes on among the living. What we do not dwell on is that each of that piece of property describes a life lived, an event in the life of that brother or sister, father or mother. That there was a moment with emotional content about that thing. That moment lodges in someone living, it is hoarded along with others, in the heart. The anguish over the death of a close someone is about opening the chest.
In the novel, Hoardings of the Heart by Kim McClenaghan the narrator, Karen receives an e-mail from her cousin that her aunt has had a major stroke. The family gathers in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape. They go ‘back to roots’. The family are all descendants of Rev Stuart who emigrated here from Scotland in the1800s and built the first church there. The house they return to is Rev Stuart’s Old house. The family’s memories are here; but in the present they have all dispersed across South Africa. Karen is unhappy in her present life. King Williams Town is now more familiarly known as inGxokolo in Xhosa, and much else has changed. She is also unhappy with the past: memories of the bomb that killed her friend, the putrefying remains of her family’s past, the new democratic King Williams Town. The memories are not hers only, they are her family’s, and she cannot be free. She is overwhelmed with remembering.
In this book we are presented with the seven days that Karen spends in King William’s Town, each day a section. Each day we learn about her present, her past and that of her family; she also gets to explain how she feels about the post apartheid South Africa. From the start we are presented with her thoughts, an irritable unhappy life unfolds. Through her eyes we see her, her family, their history, actions, gestures, loves and hates, how they treated and felt about their domestic workers: in short her living thoughts. It is a well-crafted book. Conversational, with flash-backs. Most of the narrations are discontinuous. The only thread holding the story is the narrator and that each day’s events that shape how the story is told on that day.
Like much of South Africa, the Eastern Cape has too much history. This could be read as an allegory for South Africa. The searching, unpacking and assimilating the past. While contemplating the events unlocked by the week dispersing her family’s connection with inGxokolo, she says:
But getting back to reconciliation and the slippery nature of the beast. Is it the severity of the crime, the spanner in the works that ensures a breakdown in relations between person and person, thus providing the need for reconciliation in the first place, is this a determining factor. How can you compare for example the misunderstanding between my sister and me (which is yet to be sorted out) with the reconciliation between a policeman and the man he has tortured in a holding cell, or the assassin and the loved ones of the victims he’s maimed or killed? Impossible, I hear you say, and perhaps that is so. Perhaps it is so because reconciliation can only happen inside a person’s heart (quite a romantic old fashion notion, I know, but nevertheless there must be a place somewhere within us where this process takes place), and there are still so many things that our hearts are yet not ready to forget or forgive. Such a difficult road ahead for all of us, don’t you agree?
And leaves. There is an overwhelming sense of despair. Even in her personal life. She is going back to a marriage in crisis. It is so unlike the sense of expectation that is South Africa today.Post published in: Arts