Picador Press, NY, 1995 (paperback, 212 pages)
There are indeed many ways of dying as the opening statement made by one officiating a funeral declares. From the life of the central character, Toloki, a professional mourner in South Africa, Mda creates spokes like that on a wheel examining those many ways in the lives of the revolving characters through greed, politics, poverty, sexuality, blind loyalties, etc…just as Toloki himself is coming back to life from his social death by reuniting with a homegirl, Noria, and falling in love. The act of falling in love, slowly and gently and purely, seems to be the redemption of not just their individual lives but Mda seems to offer a subtle suggestion as the redemption for a country mired in acts of violence which has become the typical method of deaths of young and old alike. The violence and poverty form the backdrop for the story but Mda focuses on how love and humanity survive and thrive in spite of the circumstances. In this novel, the violence and poverty and tragedies do not win.
The Toloki in this novel shows more discretion compared to the Toloki in Cion which employs more satirical humour. At first this wasn’t working for me as the same character seemed to have too different of a personality…but then I was able to just let it go and see a younger Toloki surrounded by different realities in this book and I became comfortable with what I perceived as disparities in the character.