JA NO MAN (a memoir of pop culture, girls..and apartheid) By Richard Poplak
by Guest Author
I did not know what to expect when I opened this book, however I discovered a well written tale of South African life and why we are who we are, generally speaking.
Richard describes the South Africa he knew as a child growing up in the 1970s as:
Before South Africa is slow and heavy-lidded, greyish pale, tight-lipped and grim. After is vibrant, dangerously nimble, ever-shifting, and bright - bright with the colours of Africa inexorably moving south to claim this once negative space.
There are some wonderful descriptions on each page. I havent thought about the smell of red floor polish for years or how about Richards description of Bushys cooking: everything she prepared slid down the gullet and nestled sullenly in the stomach, all set to digest slowly and agonizingly over the following week. Her cooking could slam the brakes on a Bangladeshi cholera epidemic.
Many of us can identify with growing up in the same apartheid era as Richard. He describes Veldskool and uses slang terms such as China and Boet; the school system and his teenage adventures experiencing the Thunderdome in Johannesburg.
There is many a chuckle to be had whilst reading this book (and South Africans can laugh at ourselves cant we?)
Richard re-lives his past, confronts past politics and re-gains a sense of who he is, but is still left confused as to where South Africa will end up as he gazes on shanty towns and the contrasting modern, thriving metropolis amongst flowering Jacarandas or close to white sandy beaches.
A note about the author: Richard Poplak grew up in Johannesburg and then moved with his family to Canada when he was 16. He returned to South Africa for several months to do research for this book in 2006. His book Ja No Man has been long-listed for the Alan Paton Award and short-listed for the Johannesburg Debut Prize. It was first published in 2007 and again in 2010.