“She was educated, with multiple degrees. She gave up a blossoming career to be a home-maker. But in the society in which she lived, in which a woman’s worth was measured in terms of her marital status and the number of children she bore, Sethunya’s score was middling to low. She struggled to conceive, [and] in the end had only one child, where four would have been more respectable.”
Title: Go Tell The Sun
Author: Wame Molefhe
Contemporary Short Story Collection ♦ 121 pages ♦ Modjaji Books, April 21, 2011
*The publisher provided me a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.*
This short collection of stories takes the average American reader into an unfamiliar landscape: Botswana. This scorched country that rests directly above South Africa has a unique rhythm, and author Wame Molefe gently coaxes the reader into the world of Botswana’s disillusioned women by weaving their stories into one almost dreamlike volume.
Her writing is tender and smooth, in a way that belies the heavy topics presented in her work. In one story, a wife struggles with her husband’s infidelity in new ways, deciding whether to take the chance of a way out. In another, a closeted lesbian must grapple with the death of a previous lover without letting on to her husband that she is mourning. This collection confronts these and other stigmas: becoming a victim of the AIDS crisis; child molestation; single parenting; undocumented status; tradition vs. freedom; and more.
Molefhe makes choices in these stories that confused me at first, but later made much sense. For example, nearly every woman main character is named Sethunya, which means “flower” in Setswana, Molefhe’s native tongue. This creates an effect of each woman’s experience being interconnected, closely bound together, though their experiences are different times, different seasons, different inspirations. Some of the stories pick up where others left off, from the perspective of other key characters. And some were totally stand-alone.
For American and Western readers, this book is dynamically different from the contemporary world of literature. There are no shopping malls, no loudly proclaimed scandals, no idealized notions of “following my heart!” It is free of the tropes that try to disguise the nature of life, yet it remains ultimately hopeful in the end. But though words like “Motswana” and “Mmamogalo” are difficult to skim over, and the law that engaging in “carnal” and “unnatural” sexual acts is punishable by up to seven years in prison is shocking — really, this collection is quite familiar to what I suspect is most women in a world still largely dominated by men, tradition, and culture.
These women struggle with issues of motherhood, sisterhood, marital “bliss.” They ask themselves, “Am I selfish for wanting more, or am I selfish for taking this easy road of doing what’s expected?” They face taboo subjects and feel ashamed that they play into a culture of silence. They do what is right for their families but face scorn when they want their children to have it better. They doubt themselves. They run. They fall. They come back again and stand strong.
This book is a small treasure, one whose lessons sink in gradually, lessons that delicately unfold like the petals of a sleepy flower in the light of morning. It asks us to examine ourselves, to take even the smallest actions of discourse and connection. It teaches us that to reach out to another person may be a momentous and heroic action. It tells us to care for one another. And that is a message I can get behind.
About the Author
Wame Molefhe was born in Francistown, Botswana, and has lived most of her life in Gaborone. She started writing short stories in 2005. In 2008, she left her full-time job to write. She freelances for a number of publications and also writes for TV. Just Once, her collection of children’s short stories, was published in 2009. Go Tell the Sun is her second short story collection (from the back of the book).
She has also contributed to a number to anthologies, including Queer Africa and African Roar 2012. She’s participated in a number of interviews about her work; this one focuses on Go Tell the Sun. You can follow her on Goodreads.
To order this book, please visit Modjaji Books and support small press publishers. Modjaji Books is located in Cape Town, South Africa, and is “an independent feminist press that publishes southern African women writers.” They ship worldwide!