Undressing Attitudes – a review of Book of the Dead

Kgebetli Moele’s second book after controversial Room 207 should be read by all young girls currently doing Grade 12 before they go to tertiary and be exposed to ‘players’ and casanovas because it speaks a language they will be comfortable with. They might find the subject matter a little offensive, especially its flirting treatment in The Book of the Dead, but the truths contained in it should shock them before they gain ‘independence’ and think they have the dating game figured out. The dating game always has an ace up its sleeve and figuring it out means a lifetime of boredom – it’s its maze and curved ball twists that make it worth playing.

Moele’s language as he delves deep into the topic of sex and infection is crude, unpolished and at your face. He makes no attempt to write better than he actually speaks. It’s a narrative to the last dot. His vocabulary and grammar are often dodgy, evidence of chiselling by a shrewd literary editor. One has a feeling the book could have died in his imagination if a sculptor was not deployed to give it its aesthetic. Overall, the syntax, which is pretty lucid is saved by Moele’s exceptional storytelling skills. His lack of a distinct imagery is saved by his descriptive narrative style.

The rich content makes this book worthy of being read. While tackling a controversial theme, Moele’s use of a second person saves him from all the finger pointing that would have followed a first person narrative. That the author lacks remorse and does not attempt to inject humanity into Khutšo often flies in the face of the country’s battle against the pandemic of HIV and AIDS. However, given that Nelson Mandela said, “AIDS is no longer just a disease, it is a human rights issue”, it is a relief that the strong medicine to alleviate such ills comes in the form of a novel. The story of the country’s fight against HIV and AIDS transcends time and is a global battlefield.

Moele’s book would appeal to all South Africans across the racial divide, even though it is a black man’s journey into hell. Its social cohesion element will be on raising debate about inter-racial sex and infection. That author’s casualisation of sex wouldn’t sit well with some races. However anything go get South Africans talking across the racial and social divide deserves an award for nation building.

I fail to understand why the author chose to demarcate his book into two themed booklets; Book of the Life and Book of the Dead. While the author might consider this creative as he prepares the reader for a wake-up call, it however is only saved by his impeccable writing skills and innovation. I would grant an award to this book for its message of bravery.

*Kgebetli Moele’s Book of the Dead won the South African Literary Award’s Sello K Duiker Award in 2010

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