Monday, October 5, 2015

Another Woman's Daughter: A Novel by Fiona Sussman

Another Woman’s Daughter: A Novel.  Fiona Sussman. Berkley/New American Library. October 2015. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425281048.

Celia Mphephu wants the best for her daughter, Miriam.  Celia works as a maid for Michael and Rita Steiner in 1960s Johannesburg.  This white couple thinks the world of Miriam, teaching her to read and paying for her to go to school, even though that schooling is far from normal for Miriam, who much preferred the Afrikaans school.  Eventually Miriam makes an Indian friend and that makes all the difference in the world.  Celia is shocked galore when the Steiners offer to adopt Miriam and take her with them back to England, offering her opportunities that would otherwise be impossible.  Later on we will find that lies and more lies have been told and the truth kept secret, but for now in a vividly brutal scene Celia realizes she cannot do otherwise but sacrifice her daughter for a while.

Miriam discovers in England a dual world, one in which she becomes well-educated but also one in which she is the victim of prejudice that is more subtle but no less traumatic.  Over time Rita Steiner becomes obsessed with her work world in the field of medicine and the gentleness of Michael is Miriam’s only saving grace.  Even then Miriam will be shocked several times before the end of the novel over the Steiner relationship and what they have kept from her.  Miriam will also fall in love with an astonishingly gentle, understanding man whose love is tested when Miriam insists after many years of returning to Africa to search for her own identity.

These are the years of the harshest apartheid treatment in Africa, and the narrator does not spare the reader the reality of the brutal treatment of black Africans.  However, this is also the time period when rebellion takes root, when protests over the Soweto tragedy and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela erupt. 

To say more would deny the reader the full impact of this poignant story. While it does not go into depth about both sides of the fire storm beginning to grow in Africa, it speaks for those white and black residents in Africa and abroad who were sensitive to, allied with, or fiercely opposed to the apartheid realities.  For that reason as well as a story carefully crafted, this reader highly recommends this potent, truthful historical novel!

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