This is a finely woven tale with a magical sense of place, atmosphere and character, set in 1950s South Africa during the time of apartheid's most stringent race laws. Arriving in South Africa from India, shy Miriam and her unapproachable husband seek a better life in Delhof for their children. They set up a general store in a remote area, and soon Miriam is wrapped up in a mundane existence without a smile, without much pleasure and love, except for that of her children.
Meanwhile, fiercely independent Amina is determined to break with tradition and not marry for the sake of her family's name. She runs her own businesses with a gentle and wise Coloured man, Jacob, and often clashes with the local police. When Miriam and Amina's paths cross in the gossip-ridden and scandal prone Indian community of Pretoria, events are set in motion that will put Miriam on a path of personal awakening that leads to an eventual confrontation with her dogmatic husband.
Shamim Sarif, born in the UK, and of South African decent, won the Betty Trask Award and Pendleton May First Novel Award with this glowing debut. Although the book begins slowly, Sarif has proven herself adept at patiently layering a complex narrative with vivid characters and subtle plot twists. She has a rare gift of bringing alive sensuous undertones and the intricacies of body language in her narration. I was a bit puzzled by her Afrikaans characters' strange use of Ja all the time, but let's not fuss about peculiarities. Definitely a book I would recommend and an author who has convinced me to pick up an even better second book, Despite the Falling Snow