Tuelo Gabonewe latest novella, Sarcophagus entices the whole nation – especially those who know little of what rural life is about – to take a long, dry-eyed look into the living conditions of rural people.
There are many themes in the story, but labour migration and its effects on communities is the main one.
The story is narrated without the smallest attempt to evoke pathos. Poverty abounds, and there are many deaths.
According to Sarcophagus’ colourful narrator: “hardly a week went by without one or two hitting the deck headlong and flat lining. Survivors find themselves with only two options every time a loved one dies: flee the scene and give yourself a chance or hang around and wait for your own death. There is not much else in the way of options.”
In spite of the harshness of the countryside where the story plays itself out and the countless deaths, Sarcophagus is a very readable book and has many parts that will leave the reader writhing on the floor with mirth. It is hopeful as it is aspirational for some of its characters.
The language is bright and lively and this book will add yet more freshness to the evolution of South African writing.
Lovers of witty and inventive writing will go a bundle on this one.
Tuelo Gabonewe is a writer currently living and working in Johannesburg. He was born in Sekhing in Bokone Bophirima in South Africa.
He recently completed a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Wits University. His first novel Planet Savage (Jacana) was published in 2011. Gabonewe is a radical and a promising author of our times. He has spent his life immersing himself in societal issues that has bothered him as a young person and inflicted unimaginable pain in our society. He is currently a banker in one of South Africa’s big four banks. He hates the idea of reincarnation, but he wouldn’t mind returning as a soccer star next lifetime, otherwise he’d much rather come back as an inanimate object.
Despite Sarcophagus being a work of fiction, and by no means a biography, it still resonates with the author’s life journey. Gabonewe’s personal story fits the profile of a migrant labourer who fled the challenging social context of rural Bokone Bophirima to settle in Johannesburg – itself a hotbed of vice – ultimately earning three degrees from Wits University and two careers as banker and author.