‘This is the voice of contemporary South African fiction’—Joanne Ruth Davis reviews Mphuthumi Ntabeni’
- The book employs the biographical facts of chief Maqoma (1798-1873) of amaXhosa and that of a contemporary young man (Phila) who returns home to South Africa from Germany during the Mandela era. It tells the story of the nation that was invaded into a crises by intertwining these two lives througn their common geographical areas and different eras they live(d) to explore the politics of geography, culture and history of a Xhosa life and development. At the same it depicts the traditional, psychological and emotional life of Xhosa people in particular. It makes for a kaleidoscopic view of a South African life, from its roots to the Mandela years.
- One of the crucial element in the human psyche is the need for belonging, to have a story, a narrative, not only as an individual but as a community, complete with its legends and myths. The black African one was slightly truncated by colonialism and apartheid. The book, in a corrective way, retells this history from the point of view of amaXhosa, and their our own historical voices.
- Despite the fact that the book should send us back to the historical sources with new interest, this is a novel, not a tract. It has exquisite characterisation, attention to descriptive detail, and sense of place and voice. It is a novel of history, psychology, culture, tradition and a whole lot of other cabinet of curiosities. It is a novel of inner dialogues, stream of conscience and all; of trying to tarry with one's life; of paretic eccentricities through the eye of history.
- Maqoma relays historical accounts as the two characters trod through locations of biographical importance to the nation. He provides compelling support to the agonised young man and shares crucial insight on the character of amaXhosa. His rueful storytelling, incandescent language, is not only designed to fulfill Phila’s panoptic curiosity, but to mellow his character also.
- The book makes for an interesting read of human development. It is a historical novel that marries exhaustive research about the past with current events. It provides insight into characters that makes a story feel immediate. Here history meets the present, religion meets scepticism, ubuqaba (the rawness of Xhosa culture untouched by Western civilisation) meets sophisticated despair. Partly internal and external travelogue; partly historical and romantic chronicle, it is written in a style of subdued poetic realism and is sometimes surreal.
- It goes beyond the bounds of observable facts into the surreal, especially of African mythology, while striving for a language of verbal freshness found in authors who were able to capture the tone of Xhosa oral folklore, like S.K.E. Mqhayi. It invokes the vanished and the ideal world of the Eastern Cape.