Author: Bianca Marais
Genre: Cultural Fiction
Release Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Perfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.
Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.
After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.
Told through Beauty and Robin's alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.
Bianca Marais dedicates HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS to Eunice, the maid who helped raise her in Johannesburg. She writes, “I needed to put three decades and 8,000 miles between myself and my South African childhood before I could even think of writing about it. I was born in Johannesburg in 1976, five months before the Soweto uprising, when 20,000 black high school students peacefully protested the apartheid government’s implementation of Afrikaans (the language of their oppressor) as the language of instruction in schools. Of course, I didn’t know that then. I was a baby—a white baby—being raised a mere twenty miles away from this defining place in South African history….Writing Hum If You Don’t Know the Words required me to hold a mirror up to myself. It was a painful and uncomfortable exercise, but it also allowed me to come to terms with my own history and the many ways I was complicit in the oppression of others. I have always wanted to pay tribute to Eunice, who changed the way I saw the world and made me a kinder and more empathetic person. This book is that tribute.”
(1) Finished copy of HUM IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE WORDS - Open to US only!