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Customer Review

on 10 September 2000
Maru is a deceptively simple story dealing with complex issues. It is a political work, vehement in its denouncement of racism. It is a romance, the two male protagonists like knights engaged in battle for love of the same woman. And it is a fairy tale; Margaret Cadmore is the heroine from humble, despised origins, whose story ends when she marries a prince.
'...I am a Masarwa'. Margaret Cadmore is an outcast in Botswanan society, one of the despised Bushmen. Bessie Head speaks from the position of the outcast in order to highlight the prevalence of racism between black peoples, as well as that between white and black. She writes with keen observation of the various categories of difference people set up between themselves, and her words are powerful and concise: 'How universal was the language of oppression!'
At first, I felt that Maragaret, rather than Maru, was the central character. However, reading it again (and this is a book that deserves to be read over and over), I became aware of the pervasiveness of Maru's power. Maru is a prince, the chief of Dilepe. He is the controlling figure of the story, manipulating people and events. He has power that can be used for good, but it also has an element of cruelty.
A strong theme is the relationship between the interior, psychic life, and the social and political world. This story takes place both in the public sphere, and in the intensely private arena of the mind. In Maru, the two are explicitly connected. Dreams and visions are a driving force behind events in the narrative. The ongoing battle between Maru and his rival Moleka is a conflict between their respective 'inner kingdoms'. Furthermore, it is Maru's mental and intellectual strength that enables him to face down the prejudice of his people.
The emphasis on the interior life of the characters highlights an important aspect of the book, that is, the role and nature of creativity. Margaret Cadmore's guardian, the unemotional missionary's wife whom she is named after, is moved to compassion through her observations as an artist. Margaret herself is an artist, creating images out of her isolation. In this character, there must surely be something of the author. For Bessie Head, creativity was a means of bringing attention to the sufferings of human beings, and re-imagining a world that struggles against all forms of prejudice and abuse of power. She did this by trying to find beauty despite hardship: 'With all my South African experience, I longed to write an enduring novel about the hideousness of racial prejudice. But I also wanted the novel to be so beautiful and so magical that I, as the writer, would long to read and re-read it'. There is no doubt that with Maru, she succeeded.
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