|Sugar Cane Boy|
|Written by Jessica Blignaut|
|Friday, 21 January 2011 11:29|
Rubendra Govender’s short novel, Sugar Cane Boy, tells the story of Soya Sivaraman and his best friend Boniwe Mkhize, two young boys growing up on a sugar cane farm in Inanda on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Set in the early 1970s through to the 1990s, the story follows the paths of the two boys, who rise above their humble rural beginnings to become men of importance. As they grow up Soya and Boniwe learn to appreciate and respect each other’s culture while simultaneously being forced to confront prejudice within their own respective communities. These prejudices of the Indian and African farming communities are viewed against the backdrop of apartheid South Africa, and though the author has asserted that Sugar Cane Boy is not a political work, the effect of apartheid discrimination on everyday life is one of the more powerful themes of the novel.
The story is narrated in a deliberately simple style, and makes extensive use of the South African Indian vernacular to bring to life this colourful tale. As well as the dramatic plot, Sugar Cane Boy offers an invaluable insight into a rural farming community and should be of interest to both Indian and non-Indian readers in its depiction of a way of life in which the optimism and warmth of the people ensured that: “Despite the harsh life, a unique spirit, culture and zest for life permeated the community”.
Rubendra Govender has drawn extensively from his own life experience as part of a pioneering sugar cane farming family in creating this account of friendship across a cultural divide. Himself a descendant of a pioneering Indian sugar farming family risen from indentured status, the author has achieved success as a university graduate and a science teacher. Since its publication in 2008, Sugar Cane Boy has been selected as an English set-work for grades 8, 9 and 10 at several leading secondary schools in Durban.