Out of the Darkness - Part 2

By DAINE DE BEER Time of article published Sep 2, 2015

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“Ten years ago I helped a handful of men take my little brother’s life. I wasn’t there when it happened, but I told Luthando where to find them.”

With that opening sentence and the title The Reactive, I knew from the start that this was an author worth taking note of. He has grabbed a number of prizes and, yet, Masande Ntshanga hasn’t created the ripples among ordinary readers as he should. Walking through one of our biggest bookshops in Pretoria recently, I noticed there wasn’t a copy in sight.

That should change soon. This young man – who writes about real lives in a country where even neighbours don’t know each other – is part of that new generation whose thoughts and ideas are so intriguing.

It’s our fractured world that hooks him, and perhaps that more than anything is why he sets his stories in Cape Town, which he feels captures the state of the nation best.

That’s where The Reactive plays out, but it’s also where his new novel (which he is in the process of writing) is set.

The Reactive was ignited when he returned home to King William’s Town after his studies. It’s where he grew up, with his later high school years completed in Pietermaritzburg in an all-boys school before he finished his graduate studies in Cape Town.

It was being removed from Cape Town, fixated on his writing, that he noticed this quest for survival – the opposite of mortality – part of what drives this story.

He knows there’s pressure with all the accolades coming his way, and this recognition has made him somewhat uncomfortable because he says “writers are withdrawn by nature”.

That’s why, before all the attention, touring and promotional work, he worked as hard as he could on his next book – just to know that he is well on his way.

In The Reactive, the three protagonists are living on the extreme edges of society. Characters are what he deals with, their lives which he describes as “having slipped through the cracks”. Or, perhaps more precisely, he’s writing about ordinary people’s lives.

“We have evaluated both the good and bad narratives in the country,” he says.

He wants to dig in different places. We know the historical facts, but don’t wholly believe it all and we need to find new meaning in our lives.

His characters are experiencing a different reality. And, again, we’re not talking politics here; it’s about life, that thing ordinary people can’t escape.

This is an author who knows how to creep into those cracks, and shine the light fiercely. It’s blinding and leaves you quite breathless.

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Review: The Reactive

It’s the story of three friends who are battling the same scourge in the days before the ARV roll-out, how they view and navigate their lives in a time zone and a place that will probably feel foreign to most readers.

But it is also at the heart of each individual’s problem and how that drives our lives. From the first sentence, where he admits he was responsible for his brother’s death, our narrator takes us on his journey of what could either mean life or death. He is so pulled down by the circumstances of his life, he finds it tough to see a life worth living.

Taking responsibility is one of the reasons his brother died during his initiation. It’s an annual death sentence for some and, yet, it is so much part of a young man’s growing up.

The Reactive is published by Umuzi

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