When two books by young black authors were sent to me by two different publishers, I felt there was a reason and got up close and personal with two stories that are both unexpected and enlightening.

DIANE DE BEER reviews:

Nine Hours by Lukhanyo Sikwebu (Kwela):

The author notes in the book and a quick google search alerted me that this was no ordinary first-time writer. He is a film director, photographer, screenwriter and novelist. But that only captures half of it – google and you will see. That’s why he pulled off the action thriller Nine Hours with such aplomb.

Described as a Naomi Mandisa Nel story, this particular heroine leads a secret life as a vigilante assassin, making sure justice is served where the system has failed to make the criminals pay for their horrific deeds.

Not even her policeman fiancé knows about this side of his woman. He is suspicious, though, but he thinks she has other lovers  ̶  not another life. But what most intrigued me about this book was the story it captured and the way it was told.

Firstly, while men play their part, a woman is the one that drives the story and takes you along on the adventure. And we are right in the middle of what is happening on the continent, with a group of young girls abducted by a rebel/terrorist group and their nightmare camp is set on the northern border of Mozambique.

Both of these are real issues, even if the situation has been pulled together to create some semblance of truth without dealing in facts.

Possibly, if you gave my credentials to the author, he would not think of me as his kind of reader  ̶  old and white  ̶  and yet, I was drawn in right from the start. I can just imagine, when too few of these type of novels dealing in adventure and set on the African continent with a mostly black ensemble of players are available, that if I were really in the target group it would have been a great discovery.

We need to see ourselves, at least some of the time, in the novels we read. Only then can we easily move on to more foreign terrain.

What makes this one a winner is that the story is well told. It’s filmic, there’s enough that’s familiar to make it believable and it’s a joyous if emotional ride. This isn’t all fun and games, but Sikwebu has a good balance of good and bad, hectic and wholesome, fast and furious yet with a strong message throughout, to make it work.

He has obviously found a genre that, for the time being, works for him and there are not many around with whom to compete. But it is going to be fun to see how he develops and where he goes in this latest endeavour. Now it’s time to go and see how he fares with his movies. Many would be thrilled with one of his accomplishments, but fortunately, his gig is to move in between all the many artistic endeavours available.

JUNX by Tshidiso Moletsane (Umuzi):

This one is a much tougher ride but equally worth reading, because of the story and the way it is told. I have always thought that theatre was my way into the lives of fellow citizens because of the stories being told.

Similarly with these kinds of books. It is the first in a series created by Umuzi titled Trailblazers and described as short works of high-quality fiction that break new ground in terms of content, style and/or form and written by authors from South Africa, other African countries and the African diaspora. The stories have to spark insight into what it means to live on the continent.

And as Koketso Poho writes in the foreword, “Black life is a juxtaposition. The condition of our lives, our futures and our past are such that we have been struggling to be seen or heard.”

We know that  ̶  certainly in this country  ̶  that remains true. Hopefully with Black Lives Matter things will keep changing and with more of my fellow white citizens becoming aware of the full weight of the artistic talent out there in this country, we will all be enriched by listening and reading one another’s stories.

Junx tells a story without holding back of someone who believes he will be published, yet in the meantime he is chasing whatever is handed to him on the day. Again Poho captures it best: we wake up every day chasing an elusive thing, chasing happiness and laughter that never lasts. We try to numb ourselves  to our realities through hedonism and callousness. But deep down (and that’s the nub) inside we are empty, we are jobless, homeless, debt sits on our necks like the Chicken Licken monkey, and, most importantly we are expressionless, without words or language to even begin thinking about our problems.

Read and learn. Ours is a divided country and because of the past, much of the terror and hunger can be ignored by the rest of us, because apartheid and the way we live have allowed us to turn away. In fact, we have to seriously pay attention if we truly want to embrace this new world.

Because of the unemployment numbers it is becoming difficult to ignore and even the tiny things that don’t bring that much money are worth stealing, so few lives are not affected, but still many of us sit quietly in our historical comfort.

But, says our hero, step into his world for a moment and he will take you there.  He has dreams but because of instincts, he mostly grabs any opportunity coming his way, whether an all-night party or a funny-speaking white dude who hands him the keys to his rented BMW and R1 000 cash to get some weed or anything above or below.

And we’re off for the time of our lives that most of us will only experience when reading this story, while many out there will be trapped in this particular nightmare  ̶  day in and day out.