'New Times' by Rehana Rossouw (Jacana)

Acclaimed writer Rehana Rossouw's book New Times, set in 1995, resonates with the heady days of South Africa's new democracy -  tinged with a sense of deja vu.

Well-known for her previous tour de force, What Will People Say?, readers here are lured into a world that on the surface appears to be filled with promise yet shadowed by the past, as Rossouw illuminates the tensions inherent in these new times.

Juxtaposing the present with the looming future, Aliyah Adams lives with her staunchly devout Muslim family in the Bo-Kaap. She's just started a new job as a political reporter in Parliament. But as  Mandela begins his second year as president, she finds his party is sidestepping the promised path to freedom and upliftment as the new economic policy being drafted does not provide for the poor.

Ali smells the scent of corruption like a cat weeding out a rotten fish and uncovers a major scandal. As she writes up stories that somehow relive the brutal past, her frind Lizo, who happens to work in Presidency, controls the information that gets through to Madiba. And in the midst of all this, Munier, yet another friend, is making her voice heard outside the gates of Parliament about taking action against Aids.

Rossouw skilfully balances Ali's work life with her complicated life at home. Her mother, after losing her husband, immerses herself in religion; Ali's friend Sumaya is getting married and there's an intense pressure for her to also tie the knot and get pregnant. 

In all of this, tolerance is in in short supply for alternative lifestyles in this close-knit community. Against this already convoluted background the Rugby World Cup starts and tourists, drawn to the colourful Bo-Kaap like a magnet, pour up the slopes, discovering a hidden gem their dollars can afford.

Rossouw is a mistress of story-telling and narrative and relates this compelling and descriptive tale of a woman trapped between family and friends in a seemingly impenetrable mesh of politics and traditional culture.

It's a stunning new novel filled with both pathos and warmth, as we are taken on a journey filled with a fascinating cast of characters, each so ravishingly described along with the evocatively described scenes of Cape Town that you may just be swept away.