Star Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5
Jacana Media, May 2018 (new edition)
Online Price: R206
Small Things: A novel about despair, love, and the elusive nature of inner happiness.
This book starts off by introducing us to the anonymous narrator’s first unrequited love, Desiree. We get to experience the all-consuming love the narrator has for her: a love that inspires the solace of poetry.
We find out that the narrator was a political prisoner who spent nearly two decades in prison. After release, we find him wandering the streets of Johannesburg, hopeless and unambitious, as if his incarceration had locked his soul in a perpetual prison.
During his wanderings, he gets shot by a man named Dark Figure. His unwillingness to seek revenge or justice left this reader uneasy: did prison indeed crush his soul? I was sucked into the depths of his despair.
But I was soon revived, by the narrator’s chance meeting with Mercedes, from Cuba. Her presence lifts us from the dreariness and restores – well, the possibility that not all is lost. Through his liaison with Mercedes we see the narrator’s soul. If this novel were an Italian sonnet, the Mercedes episode would seem to be the volta.
But just when we are hopeful that the narrator’s life is taking a beautiful turn, Mercedes drops a bombshell.
The trumpet, his other great love, becomes his main source of happiness along with writing. Back on the streets with his trumpet and a dog for companionship – he has resigned himself to life as a nondescript busker, a background feature of the cityscape.
The elusive nature of love is a recurring theme in the novel. Nthikeng Mohlele takes us on a philosophical, poetic and musical journey – a heartbreaking one. The most significant part of the story, for me, is how he masterfully highlights the contradictions between real life and one’s inner self.
Small Things, although emotionally taxing, is a very well written exploration of love and the effects of trauma on a person’s capacity to move on.
— Review for Africa’s Lit by Amogelang Mothapo