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Modjaji Books

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The Cry of the Hangkaka by Anne Woodborne reviewed by Andie Miller

The Cry of the Hangkaka The Cry of the Hangkaka by Anne Woodborne is another of those quiet books that seems to have slipped past amid the noise. Drawing on her own childhood experiences of growing up in Cape Town, Scotland and Nigeria, the author has crafted a richly poetic novel of a child’s view of the world around her.

After her parents’ early divorce, it is just Karin and her mother. ‘We have been alone together my whole life from the first moment I knew I was me.’ At a tidal pool in False Bay, ‘false as men’s hearts’, they ‘sit on rocks warm as toast’ and ‘I put my hands on either side of her face and kiss her nose’. But then her mother makes another bad marriage, and ‘my heart swoops out in resentful love for her.’
Left with new relatives in Scotland suffering the after-effects of the war, life is grimy and bleak. ‘The McCrackens bend to their plates of food. Their sets of teeth clack like the castanets of the dancers in Madeira when Mom and I leaned over the rail to watch. I take tiny bites of dry bread and grey eggs.’ But she learns to read there.

On board ship again, when her mother finally comes to fetch her, she comes across a magazine with photographs of the concentration camps. ‘Only witches can grind and spit out these hell names with their yellow rotting fangs.’ And then they are in Lagos where the women’s dresses ‘have colours I’ve seen on parrots – orange, red, purple, green’ and the ‘loud voices – shouting, calling, laughing, talking – join to make a babbling noise.’ And the sights and sounds and malaria overtake her.

And always there is her new stepfather, Jack, to be navigated around, spilling over into everything around him.

At a time when the literary machine has many authors pushing out a book a year, this debut novel by an author now in her seventies has the feeling of having percolated for a long time. There is a richness to the language that is often absent from books written in hurry.

And the end of the novel is likely to spark debate in book clubs.

Anne Woodborne

Book review by Andie Miller, author of the book about walking called Slow Motion and editor.

The Cry of the Hangkaka

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