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Bianca Marais for "Hum If You Don't Know the Words"

  • SubText Books 6 West 5th Street Saint Paul, MN, 55102 United States (map)

Join us in the store on Friday, July 14th to hear Bianca Marais read and discuss her fantastic new novel, "Hum If You Don't Know the Words." Book signing to follow! 

From Bianca Marais comes one of 2017’s richest and most searing debuts, a perceptive, beautifully written novel about Apartheid South Africa as told through the story of a unique family brought together by tragedy. Admirers of The Help, The Secret Life of Bees, and Homegoing will find themselves entranced by this compelling story from a fresh and exciting new voice in fiction. Marais, a native of South Africa who now lives in Canada, draws on her own experience with the black maid who raised her, as well as her intimate knowledge of a sharply divided society on the brink of rebellion. Through the alternating voices of her two main characters, she has created a compelling and deeply moving story of loss, sacrifice, racism, mothers and daughters, and transcendent, transformative love.

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her attentive parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same country, but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built along the division of race, and their meeting should have never occurred—until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial and political conflict and changes the fault lines along which their society is built. Both Robin’s and Beauty’s worlds are shattered when Robin’s parents are found dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing. 

With her faithful depiction of life in South Africa’s varied settings, Marais creates a vibrant sense of place while introducing readers to the seminal historical event of the Soweto Uprising. With two immensely likeable heroines and a diverse supporting cast brimming with humor and humanity, she also powerfully addresses the vital issues of racism and homophobia, which continue to trouble societies around the globe. Appealing to fans of Barbara Kingsolver, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alexander McCall Smith, and Chris Cleave, her story will enthrall the growing body of readers eager to learn more about the African experience through fiction.

A dazzling debut novel about a white girl and a black woman from different worlds who are drawn together by tragedy, "Hum If You Don't Know the Words" is a delicious read that depicts with authenticity and depth the rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of South Africa under Apartheid. 

Bianca Marais was born in Apartheid South Africa, and her debut is inspired by her own childhood experiences. She holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto, and her work has been published in World Enough and Crime. Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and volunteered with Cotlands, which provided aid for HIV/Aids orphans. She now resides in Toronto with her husband.

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