|The Story of Maha by Sumayya Lee|
|Sunday, 02 September 2007 18:00|
With a tagline of ‘A spunky tale of Romance, Rotis and Unsuitable Boys’, The Story of Maha is certainly unlike any other South African book to have been released recently. It follows the story of (you guessed it) Maha, a young Muslim girl, half-coloured and half-Indian (or half-Bruinou, half-Chaarou, in the slang that freely peppers this novel). Due to an untimely tragedy, she finds herself living in Durban with the Indian grandparents she has just met.
The book follows her transformation from lonely child through rebellious teenager to tentatively happy twenty-year-old. We are introduced to her friends, her (very extended) family and her inner thoughts, privy to everything Maha thinks and says. Yes, everything. The book is written in first person, and entirely uncensored; perhaps this is what makes it so refreshing.
Maha is confused and spiteful and sweet and hormonal and wildly emotional and prone to vulgar language, and none of this is hidden from the reader. She uses slang freely, and her sense of dialect is wonderfully carried out, “Nor, beti, don’t do that,” her grandmother frequently scolds. The book is, at heart, an exploration of these emotions in the highly charged end-of-Apartheid years in and around Durban. But it is also a study of Muslim women from the inside, a place most people never get to experience. Lee writes freely of the wonders and difficulties of the Islamic faith, pinpointing male-female relations, beliefs about tertiary education and family expectations in particular.
The result? A fascinating glimpse into one girl’s mind as she grows from a child to a woman, navigating the difficulties of adolescence and faith.
Sumayya Lee, with The Story of Maha, was the runner-up in the 2006 Ronnie Govender Literary Award for an unpublished novel.
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