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Singing Away the Hunger : The Autobiography of an African Woman Paperback – October 22, 1997
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From Library Journal
This implausible memoir is from a woman who experienced extreme adversity, suffering the loss of six children and her husband and then struggling to support her remaining family as a domestic worker. It is the narrative of a woman with a primary education who speaks eight languages and once had a prosperous farm. Nthunya is also a storyteller, relating how her mother was expected to marry someone her father selected for her, thereby collecting a bride-price. But her mother prayed that she would die, only to have her father and husband-to-be pass away instead. Another tale concerns the author's brother-in-law, who put a cruel spell on her and her children after her husband died because she wouldn't allow him to step in as their father, as is the custom. Eventually, three of her sons died, and she blamed her brother-in-law. A tragic, depressing look at life in South Africa; recommended for collections in African folklore.?Ann Burns, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
An African woman's poignant and beautifully crafted memoir lyrically portrays the brutal poverty and reliance on ritual that shape the lives of her people, the Basotho. Though set in Lesotho and South Africa, hers is not a story of apartheid and racism per se, although both are a subtext of Nthunya's stories. Rather, it is a rare glimpse into the almost exclusively black African world and culture of the Basotho. It is the story of Nthunya's almost unimaginably hard life: a childhood without clothing, shoes, or food (she literally ate grass); the mother she vividly brings to life, a devout Roman Catholic who inspires her daughter's resilience and belief in God and transcendence; the death of her husband and murders of her children, brother, and father; work as a domestic to support her children. Among the most fascinating aspects of her narrative are the unbending rules of custom and ritual that determine everything from marriage to everyday activities. Yet this is not a dark book. It is filled with Nthunya's love of natural beauty, as well as her sense of humor, hope, and dreams. Nthunya's story might have been suffused with resentment and rage, but it is not. She does not dictate our emotions, but extracts them through the power of her voice. The single exception is Nthunya's warning about poverty and the jealousy it incites. In her stories she reveals how jealousy corrupts and destroys. She concludes with a warning and a dream for her people: ``Maybe if there is one day enough for the hunger to stop, we can stop being so jealous of one another. If the jealousy is no more, we can begin to have dreams for each other.'' A commanding and important work that will captivate readers with its unique voice, narrative power, and unforgettable scenes of life in southern Africa. (17 b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I liked the unrelenting manner in which taboo and "private" information was easily given and spoken about as an accepted as a way of life. Mpho did not censor her words or the situations in any way. Her life story was presented as raw, emotional, and unrelenting. The editor had one simple goal in sight, to get Mpho's story across honestly and starkly, in order to make a lasting impression on all who read Mpho's book. I was also thrilled with the fact that the editor used the foreword to stress this point. That this novel is Mpho's and that it is Mpho's story to tell.
The only critique I have of the book is that it tends to jump around a bit. Mpho will introduce a topic but not fully explain it until later in the novel when the topic is reintroduced and intertwined with a second topic she is discussing, only to then later tie up the loose ends of both topics. This in no way draws away from the character and telling of the story, it is more of a personal annoyance.
Singing Away The Hunger, is a must read book that I have already recommended to so many friends and colleagues. It is one of the most riveting, attention-keeping autobiographies that I have read to date. It gives incite into the various cultures and customs present in early-mid 1900s Africa . A very intelligent woman, Mpho speaks eight languages and has the ability to relay her stories in vivid detail. Often as I was reading the book, I would have no trouble picturing and imagining Mpho's surroundings or actions because she has a great gift of being able to narrate a story in such a way that the reader is sucked in. All the trouble and struggles Mpho experiences, only seem to increase her internal strength and drive, while leaving her with an appreciation for the tough life she has had to live through, and leaving the reader with the knowledge that someone will always,always,always have it much worse than you do. This book reminds me that even on the worst day, of the worst week, of the worst month, of the worst year of my life, that I am infinitely more well off than massive percentage of people on Earth, and that I should be grateful for all the opportunities and privileges that I possess. This book truly is as Mpho refers to it, a mohlolo, a miracle/wonder.
The autobiography is extraordinary because it is created by a woman with only a fifth grade education among people who are generally illiterate. As the eldest of her family, Mpho is responsible for the passing down of history, culture, and stories. Which makes her exceptionally qualified to ornate her life story in an understandable way. A discrepancy maybe present because Kendall was the one who asked the questions to Mpho, the questions may have been shaped by Kendall's experiences or presumed knowledge of native life. Also, Mpho may have shaped her answers in a way that she believed her audience would like, emphasizing some things while leaving out other things. During the making of the book Mpho was present to instruct Kendall on how to edit her book. Though the author spoke English, she did verbalize that it was easier to tell the story in her native tongue, thus she could not express herself to the extent she desired. It would have been better if the writing style was not so scattered, the book was written in a quasi- chronological format. Throughout the book is sprinkled flashback moments that in my opinion disrupts the flow of the chapter and makes it difficult to map out Mpho's life. Yet still, her story was so compelling and interesting to me that I went on a search for the editor to express to her personally how much I enjoyed Mpho's autobiography.
This autobiographical book of stories by a Bathoso woman is absorbing and entertaining, well worth the read on that basis alone. A true and honest look at Lethoso culture as it was and is experienced by one woman is an unexpected bonus.
Thanks to M'e Mpho for telling her stories and to Limakasto for bringing them to us.