South African. Historical. Magical Realism.
Colleen Van Niekerk’s A Conspiracy of Mothers (Little A 2021) is a novel of mothers and the lengths they will go to protect their children. It’s a novel of magic and calling on the ancestors. It’s a novel of Black, coloured, and white. It’s a novel of forbidden love, violent attacks, and choices. It’s a novel about the sins of the fathers.
It’s a novel of apartheid.
The novel opens in Virginia with a broken woman fighting the demons of her past and the voice of her mother calling her home. Yolanda fled South Africa after she was attacked and raped by a group of men. She left behind a young daughter, Ingrid, who was the product of an illegal and dangerous love affair with a Boer. Yolanda hasn’t been home in 18 years. But now, her mother is calling her, her voice carried in the night, and Yolanda knows something is wrong. She must return home. She will do anything to protect her daughter.
Rachel is sick, but she hasn’t told anyone. She knows before she dies she has to fix what was broken, to bring Yolanda back to life and back to South Africa. A resurrection and a prodigal daughter. She makes the preparations and calls on the ancestors and the magic that vibrates in her old bones. What life cancer has left her will be the cost for the magic she needs. She will do anything to protect her daughter.
Elsa is Ingrid’s other grandmother. Rachel’s magic has reached her, and she knows Yolanda is coming. She hires a dangerous man to take care of the problem. She will do anything to protect her son. She’s done it before, and she’ll do it again – no matter the cost.
Ingrid is a young woman in a different South Africa than the one her mother was raised in. She’d been led to believe both her parents died when she was little. When her grandmother disappears, leaving the truth in her wake, Ingrid is enraged – both of her parents are alive and her life has been a lie. Consumed by anger, she turns her back on her mother and seeks out her Boer father.
It is a well-written book that shows the scars and the heartbeats of South Africa during apartheid and up through 1994 with country in political turmoil. It drags just a bit in the beginning as the scene is set, but stick with it. You won’t be disappointed.
Read this book.