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Sarcophagus is a novella which follows the trials and tribulations of a poor family that experiences one tragedy after another. The story is narrated by a nameless, faceless narrator. Telling this story to a young boy who seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere and keeps asking the narrator to please finish. The setting is a village called Sekhing, a real village in the North West province. The family is comprised of five members: mom, dad and three children. The father is a migrant labourer and spends the majority of his time away from home. He dies fairly early in the story, and his older son steps up, against his mother’s objections, and becomes the breadwinner. Things go downhill very quickly from this point. The young breadwinner struggles to cope with his responsibilities, the mother suffers depression and the younger boy runs away from home. In the end, the pain becomes too much and the mother kills herself and her youngest child. There is an interesting surprise in the ending. The narrator reveals the reason why he has chosen to tell him the story of that family, and it is a nice plot twist.

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.

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.

About the Author

Tuelo Gabonewe is a writer currently living and working in Johannesburg. He was born in Sekhing in Bokone Bophirima in South Africa.

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.

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.


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Sarcophagus, by Tuelo Gabonewe

Sarcophagus, by Tuelo Gabonewe