Fugard's novel covers just over three days in the life of "Tsotsi", a township gang-leader in Apartheid-era South Africa, commencing with the evening a baby is thrust upon him. What follows is both a portrait of the precarious and dangerous nature of township life and a meditation on how hopes are dashed and lives irreparably damaged.
This is a relatively short novel, written in easy story segments. Fugard writes with both sympathy and quiet outrage for the fates of his characters. No one is dismissed or judged no matter how repulsive their fate or lifestyle. What makes this a compelling read is the attempt to see beyond appearances, to explain fates, to understand choices. Ultimately though, this is also what keeps this a four-star not a five-star novel. Tsotsi is a powerful character, lost in his dark, violent world. The baby triggers memories of a destroyed childhood, the baby offers redemption and yet there is something a little too obvious with this, something that jars: The baby is there in spirit rather than substance. The baby is the least real of all the characters (even the other baby) with no back-story or resolution and in the context of this novel, this inconsistency may irk you too. That said, this remains a worthwhile read.