Hum If You Don’t Know the Words
Perfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing. After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection. Told through Beauty and Robin's alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words Details

TitleHum If You Don’t Know the Words
Author
FormatKindle Edition
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 11th, 2017
PublisherG.P. Putnam’s Sons
Number of pages432 pages
Rating
GenreFiction, Historical, Cultural, Africa, Novels, Adult Fiction, Adult, Adventure, Survival, Drama, Contemporary

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words Review

  • Angela M
    June 25, 2017
    There was something about this title that drew me to read the description and then after reading that this was about apartheid in South Africa I decided that I'd take a chance on this debut novel because what did I really know about it? As it turns out, while I didn't know the specifics of the Soweto Uprising which becomes the event in this story that is instrumental in bringing the two main characters together, the treatment of black people sounded all too sadly familiar as I thought about the There was something about this title that drew me to read the description and then after reading that this was about apartheid in South Africa I decided that I'd take a chance on this debut novel because what did I really know about it? As it turns out, while I didn't know the specifics of the Soweto Uprising which becomes the event in this story that is instrumental in bringing the two main characters together, the treatment of black people sounded all too sadly familiar as I thought about the history in my own country, the US. But I wanted to know some specifics about this student uprising where many were killed or injured . I've included some links below. What this story does in alternating narratives is depict what was happening in the country reflected in the lives of two individuals. Robin is an adventurous 9 year old white English girl, who is caught in the horrific events created by racism when she loses her parents on the that fateful night of June 16, 1976. Beauty, a black woman, raising her children alone , finds out not only that her daughter is missing, but that she is front and center in the uprising. It is what happens on that day that brings these two characters together. Beauty embarks on a clandestine search for her daughter while Robin is on a journey of her own seeking love and care. I found it to be beautifully written in parts. I read a prepublication copy so the final version may be different but I can't help but share at least one excerpt: "There is no lingering twilight in Africa, no gloaming as day eases into night; a tender give-and-take between light and shadow. Night settles swiftly. If you are vigilant and not prone to distractions, you can almost feel the very moment daylight slips through your fingers and leaves you clutching the inky sap that is the sub-Saharan night. It is a sharp exhalation of the closing of the day, a sigh of relief. Sunrise is the opposite: a gentle inhalation, a protracted affair as the day readies itself for what is to come."There were a couple of things that didn't make this perfect for me. I felt that at times the author tried too hard to get me to see her message of equality by including some lesser characters who were gay or Jewish and emphasizing that message , but the story itself was powerful enough without telling me . I also found the ending sequences with Robin somewhat unrealistic for a ten year old . Having said that the story has so much to offer - a learning experience for me, a fascinating albeit disturbing look at apartheid, but also a study of grief and loss , family, love, friendship and bravery of the people , both black and white, fighting for equality. For me it's 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 because even though I had a few reservations, I found it a worthy read . The end leaves room for maybe a continuation of the story and if that bears out in a sequel, I will definitely read it. I received an advanced copy of this book from G.P. Putnam's Sons/PenguinRandom House through Edelweiss.Some information on the Soweto Uprising: http://100photos.time.com/photos/sam-...http://www.newsweek.com/soweto-uprisi...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soweto_...
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  • Charmaine Shepherd
    January 2, 2017
    There are some good books that you read once and pass on but occasionally you find one which you can read over and over. I have reread this book 3 times and each time I gain a little more from it. This has to be one of my favourite books of all times and each time I read it, I love it more and more. The imagery throughout the book is powerful and the author uses language so skillfully that there are passages that I have marked and keep going back to. One of my favourites is:Some good-byes are as There are some good books that you read once and pass on but occasionally you find one which you can read over and over. I have reread this book 3 times and each time I gain a little more from it. This has to be one of my favourite books of all times and each time I read it, I love it more and more. The imagery throughout the book is powerful and the author uses language so skillfully that there are passages that I have marked and keep going back to. One of my favourites is:Some good-byes are as gentle and inevitable as sunset, while some blindside you like a collision you didn’t see coming. Some good-byes are schoolyard bullies you are powerless to stop, while others punctuate the end of a relationship because you decide: enough. Some are heartbreaking, leaving you a little more damaged than you were before, while others set you free.I particularly love the blend of languages and cultures that gives the reader a glimpse of the rich cultural diversity of South Africa, which is named the Rainbow nation for this reason. South Africa has 11 official languages and Marais is so skilled at blending in very colourful bits of this language throughout the book. Despite great heartbreak and tragedy, the book is balanced with humour and wit. I found myself laughing and crying and not able to put it down.
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  • Caroline
    December 10, 2016
    As I read Hum If You Don’t Know The Words, I cried in my bed, laughed on the subway and nodded in agreement in the passport-office lounge. I often wished I could pause and tell someone – anyone nearby – about what I was reading at that particular moment. There were so many beautiful passages. Marais’ language is perfect; it is accessible and at the same time, rich. My top contender for favourite line in the book is: “… tears are neither black nor white; they are the quicksilver of our emotional As I read Hum If You Don’t Know The Words, I cried in my bed, laughed on the subway and nodded in agreement in the passport-office lounge. I often wished I could pause and tell someone – anyone nearby – about what I was reading at that particular moment. There were so many beautiful passages. Marais’ language is perfect; it is accessible and at the same time, rich. My top contender for favourite line in the book is: “… tears are neither black nor white; they are the quicksilver of our emotional turmoil and their salt flavors our pain equally.”It was hard to believe this is a debut novel. There was wit and thoughtfulness and warmth throughout bringing the two main narrators, Beauty and Robin, to life. Usually, I end up preferring one voice to the other with this type of narration, but I genuinely cared for each of them. I was equally swept up in both plotlines. Every character was lively, complex and vital. Storytelling, by and large, calls for a certain suspension of disbelief (that’s one of the most magical things about fiction) and in parts of this novel that is required. But overall, this is a balanced, humorous, poignant tale about some of the most timeless and heartbreaking subject matter possible. There were no lulls. And the ending left me with hope that not only is Hum If You Don’t Know The Words going to be a book that moves people, but that we might be moved again by these characters in the future.
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  • Sam
    December 1, 2016
    Hum if You Don't Know the Words is a novel set in 1975-76 South Africa, with the Soweto Uprising as the linchpin that brings the two main characters together and sets in motion the events of the novel. While the writing is fairly strong overall, I would only rate this 2.5 stars (rounded down to be an "it was ok" overall rating) because one of the perspectives is far superior to the other, and the ending seemed implausible and somewhat inauthentic, which changed my opinion from a solid 3 star to Hum if You Don't Know the Words is a novel set in 1975-76 South Africa, with the Soweto Uprising as the linchpin that brings the two main characters together and sets in motion the events of the novel. While the writing is fairly strong overall, I would only rate this 2.5 stars (rounded down to be an "it was ok" overall rating) because one of the perspectives is far superior to the other, and the ending seemed implausible and somewhat inauthentic, which changed my opinion from a solid 3 star to a more lukewarm rating.The novel is told from two perspectives. Beauty, a Xhosa schoolteacher, is a very well drawn character. I was immersed in her story line and character from the beginning, especially since it's told first person present tense so I felt real immediacy with her thoughts and emotions: from her perspective, the reader is on the front lines of the Soweto Uprising, and I had great sympathy and admiration for her decision to leave her young sons in the care of family and move illegally to Johannesburg to track down her freedom fighter daughter who disappeared after the protest turned deadly. Marais avoids traps and potential backlash that other books like The Help (to which this is compared) fell into, in terms of how the black protagonists are given voices and written in such a way as to sound/seem inferior: Beauty's inner strength, her serene but sharp intellect, and the depth of her emotional understanding are all very well presented. She's a fully realized character, and we see just how dignified and powerful she can be as she takes on a domestic position to care for the fragile Robin in a gentle, firm manner (that enables her to have a pass to stay in Johannesburg while searching for her daughter).By contrast, I never fully connected with Robin as a character or narrator. I think my main issue was that her daily tales weren't as urgent or compelling as Beauty's, but there was also a stylistic choice that increased distance with that character. Robin is 10 years old during the main story and her perspective is told in first person past tense, but her perspective, voice, reflections and thoughts shift haphazardly between the ten-year-old Robin and the adult Robin looking back on the events of the novel. Robin's fragility and fear of desertion following the murder of her parents (in a random act of black vengeance following the Soweto Uprising) are presented well, but I didn't get as much of the rest of her fledgling personality before or after that horrific event. So I never felt as immersed in her emotions and thoughts as I did Beauty's, especially because it would swing from those of a child to an adult who had long processed these events within the same paragraph.I did think Marais did a very good job of showing agency and empowerment and friendship in 1970s South Africa across a large and diverse backdrop of main and secondary characters. And though I found Beauty's perspective more interesting overall, when her story and Robin's aligned in the second half of the novel, I was really chugging along and enjoying what I was reading. Robin and Beauty's daily lives in Edith's Johannesburg flat and the dinner parties with friends reveal the less known plight and discrimination of homosexuals and Jews in South Africa, and the tense, creepy exchanges Beauty has with varying shadowy figures in the pursuit of her daughter are written nicely. I thought this would be a three star review right up until I arrived at the climax and conclusion of the novel.Robin makes a critical, selfish decision, and then reveals her error with devastating consequences for Beauty. Robin's motivation for making that choice were well understood from her earlier circumstances and fear of alienation and desertion. What bothered me was the ensuing path to redemption and resolution. (view spoiler)[ Robin, this fragile, ten year old white child, commandeers a drunk Colored man to drive her into a dangerous area of Johannesburg, confront a group of African freedom fighters, speaks Xhosa to them and does a traditional dance to convince them of her honesty and goodness, then finds Beauty's daughter in a different home, gets her to come back with her, evades a dangerous leader/gangster Shakes who shoots at them (hide spoiler)]. It felt very improbable that this sequence of events could actually occur, and while prior I felt Marais had been very even handed with agency and power, at the final hour Robin assumes the role of white hero to bring Beauty's daughter to her senses and reunite mother and daughter. (view spoiler)[ We're even left hanging as to Beauty's fate and how her reunion with her beloved daughter turns out: it's from Robin's perspective and she just cuts the scene off and runs to her absentee aunt Edith, suddenly now her true home. (hide spoiler)] Overall, the ending left a less pleasant taste in my mouth, both because of how far-fetched it seemed to be (it really felt like something out of a political thriller albeit with a ten year old in the starring role) and because I felt more justice could and should have been done to the ending of Beauty's story, instead of sidelining her dramatically to let Robin save the day.Ultimately, I have read and will read much stronger South African-set fiction and nonfiction: this was just ok, and I'd never re-read it or pass on to anyone I know personally. The blurb does compare this title to The Help: if you liked Stockett's book and have interest in apartheid era South Africa, this could be a read for you (though I found the overall writing better in The Help than in this one). But I'd prioritize other titles dealing with similar subject matter first.
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  • Sonja Arlow
    June 25, 2017
    3 1/2 starsJust before starting this book I thought that the publishers really should have released this book on 16 June, which is Youth Day in South Africa, commemorating the Soweto Uprising. However now that I am done I realise that the book didn’t really focus on this event, but mostly used it as a point of reference for the story.There are two narrators, Beauty, a Xhosa school teacher who comes to Johannesburg looking for her daughter who participated in the Soweto protests. She later finds 3 1/2 starsJust before starting this book I thought that the publishers really should have released this book on 16 June, which is Youth Day in South Africa, commemorating the Soweto Uprising. However now that I am done I realise that the book didn’t really focus on this event, but mostly used it as a point of reference for the story.There are two narrators, Beauty, a Xhosa school teacher who comes to Johannesburg looking for her daughter who participated in the Soweto protests. She later finds out that not only did Nomsa participate in this fateful march but she was one of the leaders.Casting one of the narrators as a child adds the feeling of innocence in a country where white people were anything but innocent. Robin is a 9-year-old white girl living with her sister Cat and parents in a mining community in Boksburg. When her parents get brutally killed on the night of 16 June her whole life unravels.I found Beauty’s narrative wonderful, engaging and poignant. Describing the difficult choices a mother must make in a country that does not allow her to keep her family together. Robin’s story also had some touching moments but her part of the narration was mostly used to create humour.For some reason, I expected this to be a more serious book, perhaps because of the time period chosen. The Soweto uprising and Umkonto we Sizwe was a turbulent time in SA for all races. I live in Johannesburg and the antics that Robin got up to towards the end of the story is not only very improbable but borders on the ridiculous. Because of this the story lost a star from me. BUT if you go into this story wanting to learn a little about this period in SA with the understanding that this is meant to be a feel-good tale then I think you will enjoy it.This author has undeniable talent and I will most definitely read her next book.Expected publish date 11 July 2017
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  • Kevin Kilmartin
    January 5, 2017
    Every now and again, a book comes along and crawls under your skin, burrows into your heart and hibernates with you for weeks. This was one of those books for me. This stunning debut novel by South African-born author Bianca Marais is set in South Africa, during the devastating Apartheid regime. Expertly narrated through the perspectives of two characters from different worlds, the story unfolds with lightning pace and is brought to life with heart-wrenching emotion. Marais perfectly captures a Every now and again, a book comes along and crawls under your skin, burrows into your heart and hibernates with you for weeks. This was one of those books for me. This stunning debut novel by South African-born author Bianca Marais is set in South Africa, during the devastating Apartheid regime. Expertly narrated through the perspectives of two characters from different worlds, the story unfolds with lightning pace and is brought to life with heart-wrenching emotion. Marais perfectly captures a child’s naïve experience of the effects of Apartheid and juxtaposes this against the wounded yet resilient perspective of an adult affected by the atrocities of the time. As they work on picking up the pieces of their broken lives, Robin and Beauty forge an unusual and touching bond, and as their characters evolve, so does our understanding of the events unfolding against the backdrop of a horrific time in South Africa’s history. Sadness and tension are expertly offset by humor, which is interwoven throughout this complex tapestry, making it all the more readable and relatable. Unforgettable characters and eloquent prose manage to bring to life South Africa’s rich landscape and resilient and brave people. If you read one book this year, it has to be Hum If You Don’t Know the Words.
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  • Bev
    December 10, 2016
    Just finished "HUM IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE WORDS" and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved the title; how many times have I heard that growing up in a church choir and music classes at school? And, for the book where language played a huge role, it had a special meaning.The introduction to Robin and Beauty in the first 2 chapters captivated this reader. Robin in C 1 reminded me of Scout in To Kill a Mocking Bird, but she quickly became herself. The author does a remarkable job of painting portraits of h Just finished "HUM IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE WORDS" and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved the title; how many times have I heard that growing up in a church choir and music classes at school? And, for the book where language played a huge role, it had a special meaning.The introduction to Robin and Beauty in the first 2 chapters captivated this reader. Robin in C 1 reminded me of Scout in To Kill a Mocking Bird, but she quickly became herself. The author does a remarkable job of painting portraits of her characters--I could just see and hear them. It is a good story, dark but some wonderful humour. The author has accomplished something remarkable; a fast moving plot that captures so many aspects of SA society and humanity at large, and is entertaining. I can see the film rights being picked up because it would make a good movie with the right director and cast. The author foreshadows "another story for another time" at the end of the book; I hope she is writing a sequel.
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  • Emily
    January 27, 2017
    It's been quite a while since I developed a crush for a book like I did with Marais' debut. Probably not since The Help, or Little Bee, or Secret Life of Bees... Hum If You Don't Know the Words was just the reminder I needed that in the midst of hate and chaos, simple acts of love and kindness at the personal level will turn the tide. How relevant and reassuring given the times we find ourselves in today.The characters are moving, their arcs of transformation beautifully crafted from beginning t It's been quite a while since I developed a crush for a book like I did with Marais' debut. Probably not since The Help, or Little Bee, or Secret Life of Bees... Hum If You Don't Know the Words was just the reminder I needed that in the midst of hate and chaos, simple acts of love and kindness at the personal level will turn the tide. How relevant and reassuring given the times we find ourselves in today.The characters are moving, their arcs of transformation beautifully crafted from beginning to end, each so unique but facing struggles that make them entirely relatable. I could see myself in people that are nothing like me. And now I must visit South Africa, for it too became a character jumping from the pages with its vivid contrasts and cultures. This is already on my bookclub's list for 2017, and since there are 11 of us, it's very rare that we ever have a unanimous view. But I am sure this will be a hit for all of us -- there are precocious moments of hilarity, heart-wrenching moments of loss and grief, redemptive moments of truth and light, and everything in between. It's hard to believe this is Marais' first novel, but for certain it won't be her last. I am already waiting for a sequel so I can follow the rest of this compelling story!
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  • Shannon A
    January 1, 2017
    Finished in a day. A beautiful woven story full of tenderness, suspense and quick-wit that will have you on the edge of tears one moment and dabbing them away from laughter the next. A refreshing bright and thoughtful debut.
  • Lisa
    February 20, 2017
    A moving and wonderfully written story about love, loss and the impenetrable force of grief. It depicts beautifully the bond between two people who find each other unexpectedly and bring much needed love to their lives. Set in 1975-6 South Africa during the time of the Soweto Uprising, you are transported into the world of the characters Beauty and Robin and you do not want the story to end. You feel immensely the strong love a mother has for her child as Beauty stops at nothing to find her daug A moving and wonderfully written story about love, loss and the impenetrable force of grief. It depicts beautifully the bond between two people who find each other unexpectedly and bring much needed love to their lives. Set in 1975-6 South Africa during the time of the Soweto Uprising, you are transported into the world of the characters Beauty and Robin and you do not want the story to end. You feel immensely the strong love a mother has for her child as Beauty stops at nothing to find her daughter Nomsa. You also feel the sadness, loneliness, anxiety, fear and isolation Robin feels after the loss of her parents. The writing and images are powerful, leaving a lasting impression on you. You are taken on an intense journey with strong narration, laughter and tears. Highly recommend this work.
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  • Mulli
    January 9, 2017
    Amazing. Heartwarming. Adventurous. I absolutely loved the little girl Robin. This book is a page turner and I will recommend it to all. I was sad to have the story end although it sounds like there will be a second book. I hope this book makes it to the big screen, it’s a great story.
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  • Andrew Goryachev
    December 11, 2016
    I greatly enjoyed reading the book by Bianca Marais. The style is very dynamic and lively, I think I could vividly picture the scenes in my mind. I loved the characters that are complex, colorful and full of life. The vibrant story develops continuously and it is hard to put the book down until you reach the final crescendo. I think this is a stunning debut and I look forward to new stories from her.
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  • Theresa Lynch
    January 3, 2017
    Debut author, South Africa 1977. Telling the story of apartheid through very human characters. A "couldn't put it down" kinda read. Wouldn't at all be surprised if got movie offers. Just hope if so it stays true to the book. Wonderful job.
  • Beyondthebookends
    June 4, 2017
    I had the privilege of reading Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais as an Advanced Reader Copy. I say privilege because this book is truly outstanding.  If you only read one book this summer, this is the book to read.This novel is a brutally honest and emotionally compelling story, unlike anything I have ever read. This book begins in apartheid South Africa just before the 1976 Soweto uprising in which thousands of black students marched in protest of the apartheid government. Though I had the privilege of reading Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais as an Advanced Reader Copy. I say privilege because this book is truly outstanding.  If you only read one book this summer, this is the book to read.This novel is a brutally honest and emotionally compelling story, unlike anything I have ever read. This book begins in apartheid South Africa just before the 1976 Soweto uprising in which thousands of black students marched in protest of the apartheid government. Though the protest was peaceful, police open fired killing a hundred children.Beauty, a well-educated black woman (educated before the Bantu Education Act) leaves her two sons to go to Johannesburg to find her daughter who has gone missing. In need of papers to stay and continue her search, Beauty must find a job. The story is narrated from the point of view of Beauty and Robin, a 10-year-old white girl who is orphaned when her parents are killed. Their two stories come together to form an unlikely bond.I could tell from the first chapter how much I would enjoy this book. Hum if You Don't Know the Words is powerful, emotional and exquisitely written. I keep returning to a conversation Robins has with a boy named Asanda about the nature of racism. Marais has summarized such a complex topic with such simple eloquent words.Maybe it’s that the whites need the black so much and that puts you all in a position of power that scares us. Or maybe its just that everyone needs someone to hate, and its easier to treat people terribly if you tell yourself they’re nothing like you.I read this book without pausing to put it down. When I was done, I was overcome with emotion.  I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. The book did not have a neat and tidy ending because, in reality, the story does not end just because the book does.  However, the ending of the book is fulfilling. It leaves me wondering and curious without that horrible feeling that there is something missing.  Everything about this book felt right. As I mentioned in May's Novel Ideas Post, this is my favorite book of the year. I cannot wait to see where this book goes. Thank you to Putman for allowing the opportunity to read Hum if You Don't Know the Words.  Now, if I can just get Ms. Marais to sign it........Read more review at www.beyondthebookends.com
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  • Jackie Robins
    May 25, 2017
    All I can say is wow! Thank you so much for this ARC. This is a truly phenomenal book. And while it's written about A very difficult and recent time in our history, it somehow doesn't preach. It is a beautiful story about a nine-year-old white girl and a black woman whose lives become intertwined. I don't want to spoil anything about this book because I truly feel it is a must read. It is funny, heart-wrenching and impeccably written. This is a Stunning accomplishment in writing.
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  • Gab
    June 23, 2017
    Wow, ha sido hermoso. Me alegro de haber pedido una copia anticipada de este libro, el título, la historia, los personajes, todo ha quedado y encajado como debía. "Some good-byes are as gentle and inevitable as sunset, while some blindside you like a collision you didn’t see coming. Some good-byes are schoolyard bullies you are powerless to stop, while others punctuate the end of a relationship because you decide: enough. Some are heartbreaking, leaving you a little more damaged than you were b Wow, ha sido hermoso. Me alegro de haber pedido una copia anticipada de este libro, el título, la historia, los personajes, todo ha quedado y encajado como debía. "Some good-byes are as gentle and inevitable as sunset, while some blindside you like a collision you didn’t see coming. Some good-byes are schoolyard bullies you are powerless to stop, while others punctuate the end of a relationship because you decide: enough. Some are heartbreaking, leaving you a little more damaged than you were before, while others set you free."
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  • Alison
    June 17, 2017
    What a wonderful book, so well written with a very engaging story line.The story takes place in South Africa, during the Apartheid regime 1975-1976, also at the time of the Soweto uprising. It is a story about differences, whether about race, color, sexual orientation or religion. It is also about similarities, in love, acceptance, trust and friendships, a story which is comprised of wonderful and engaging characters, who will make you feel many different feelings.The main characters are Robin, What a wonderful book, so well written with a very engaging story line.The story takes place in South Africa, during the Apartheid regime 1975-1976, also at the time of the Soweto uprising. It is a story about differences, whether about race, color, sexual orientation or religion. It is also about similarities, in love, acceptance, trust and friendships, a story which is comprised of wonderful and engaging characters, who will make you feel many different feelings.The main characters are Robin, a young white girl who has lost her parents and must go to live with her aunt in Johannesburg, and that of Beauty a smart black educator, who cannot find her daughter after the Soweto uprising. These two come together through each of their own needs, and a beautiful friendship is formed, yet also at times their fears get in the way.This book besides its serious themes, has a lot of humor which had me laughing at times. This book was hard to put down and these characters will stay with me for a long time. I want to thank NetGalley and Penguin Group Putnam for the ARC of the book.
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  • Nina Carboni
    June 21, 2017
    This is one of the best books that I've read in a long time. I can't even write a proper review right now because I just finished reading and I still have a huge knot in my throat. This book will be heralded along with the likes of "The Kite Runner" and "The Help" Believe the hype people and take a few days off from life.
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  • Bonnie Plante
    June 5, 2017
    This book - wow! What an important read for me. Thanks to Penguin Random House First to Read program for providing me with an ARC of this book. From the publisher: Perfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.I'll be the first to admit that I don't pay attention to a lot of world events. I know bits and pieces about things but never the whole story. Apartheid wa This book - wow! What an important read for me. Thanks to Penguin Random House First to Read program for providing me with an ARC of this book. From the publisher: Perfect for readers of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.I'll be the first to admit that I don't pay attention to a lot of world events. I know bits and pieces about things but never the whole story. Apartheid was something I knew existed in South Africa - but Nelson Mandela was not on my radar until after his release from prison. I was knee deep in new mommyhood at that time so still didn't pay nearly as much attention to things as I should have. I was not fully unaware but definitely experiencing a global disconnect. This book brought it all home to me in an incredible way. It is the story of two South African families one black, the other white in the 1970's. It actually took me a little while to get into the story but once I did, I couldn't put it down. It was well written with characters who really came to life and inhabited my thoughts even when I wasn't reading. I finished it more than a day ago and I am still thinking about it. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading more from this author.
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  • USOM
    June 7, 2017
    Having read many post-apartheid books, reading one that was set smack dab in it, was absolutely fascinating, from that perspective alone. Both of the characters POVs are fantastic. There's Beauty who is absolutely empathetic and fierce. Then there's Robin who is such a complex character, wise for her years, but balancing a childish understanding of the world. Their journeys are moving, intricate, and expertly written. The plot is wonderful, twisty, and full of surprises. The writing is full of m Having read many post-apartheid books, reading one that was set smack dab in it, was absolutely fascinating, from that perspective alone. Both of the characters POVs are fantastic. There's Beauty who is absolutely empathetic and fierce. Then there's Robin who is such a complex character, wise for her years, but balancing a childish understanding of the world. Their journeys are moving, intricate, and expertly written. The plot is wonderful, twisty, and full of surprises. The writing is full of moments that astonish you. Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from First to Read.
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  • Sue (booknbeachbag)
    June 24, 2017
    When was the last time I picked up a 400+ page book on a Saturday afternoon and didn't go to bed until I'd finished reading? The publication date for Hum If You Don't Know the Words isn't until the middle of next month but I believe at some point in the not too distant future this book is going to appear on so many "best book club titles" lists. It's a multi-layered book with much to talk about. But unlike some other books I've read recently that begged to be talked about, this book can be read When was the last time I picked up a 400+ page book on a Saturday afternoon and didn't go to bed until I'd finished reading? The publication date for Hum If You Don't Know the Words isn't until the middle of next month but I believe at some point in the not too distant future this book is going to appear on so many "best book club titles" lists. It's a multi-layered book with much to talk about. But unlike some other books I've read recently that begged to be talked about, this book can be read alone. Without added benefit of a book club discussion. Just be prepared to do a lot of thinking about what you're reading while you're reading it - and after you've finished the book. I'm going to be thinking about what I read for a long time to come. I was able to read Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais prior to publication thanks to an ARC from Penguin Random House and G.P. Putnam's Sons. What a wonderful book. So thrilled that I will be able to say I read it before it becomes one of this year's most talked about books. I thought I knew a lot about apartheid and I thought I was able to adequately imagine what life must have been like in South Africa in the late 1970s. I was a college student, witnessed protests on the streets of Philadelphia against apartheid. Had been an overseas student at Tel Aviv University side-by-side with many students from South Africa. I knew all those students had household servants. That's what I thought was different between "us" and "them." I never imagined that those household servants weren't allowed to use the bathrooms - or even the dishes and silverware - of the family that they worked for. On an intellectual level, I knew how horrible apartheid was. I knew it was on par with the United States South in the days of Jim Crow. But I simply didn't know on a real level what this translated to in everyday life. This book gave me a window into that world. Into South Africa of the 1970s, at a time when real change was on the verge of taking place.Why is is that I never thought to ask those South African students in Tel Aviv about their Jewish lives back home, since I presume many of those students were Jewish? One of Robin's closest friends is a Jewish boy who is forced to be home-schooled because of anti-Semitic bullying at the school he had attended. Were my former fellow students bullied like that? And how is it that I didn't realize that these same fellow students didn't grow up watching television the way we did in the United States? Once a week, a group of us would go down to the lounge in our "F" dorm and watch The Muppet Show. Television had only come to South Africa a few years prior. Was being able to watch something like The Muppets a big, huge deal to those who had only started watching television? How did I not know? When I think about the Civil Rights era in the United States, I think of something that happened before I was born (even if that's not quite true). But this story took place at a time when I (thought I) was aware of what was going on in the world around me. We boycotted companies that did business in South Africa. We protested. We signed petitions. My contemporaries marched. This was a horrible period of history in my lifetime. I likened the stories about the activists in this novel with stories I'm familiar with about our Underground Railroad. Hum If You Don't Know the Words is a complex, rich novel. It's a story of apartheid. It's also a coming of age story. It's a story of creating family from the people you choose rather than those you are born to. It's a story about motherhood. And finally it's a story about love. It's a story of hope in a world where violence and hatred have taken a firm hold.I try not to read reviews of books prior to picking up a book so it wasn't until after I'd finished reading that I explored some of the reviews on goodreads. Overwhelmingly, readers loved the book. A few people complained about the telling of Robin's story. She's telling the story of the year she turned 10 from the perspective of an older person. Her narration alternates between sounding like it's being told by a child and being told by adult Robin. I had no problem with that. Or the ending of the book? That it was just too neat and pretty (Did you really think for a moment that I am going to tell you how it ends?) The book wasn't perfect, but none of those issues detracted one moment from my full immersion and enjoyment of the book.Bianca Marais' language is delightful. Her storytelling is seamless. I look forward to reading more of what she chooses to write. I will recommend this book to anyone, the highest compliment I can give to an author.
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  • Erin Quinney
    June 23, 2017
    **This review is based on the ARC of Hum If You Don't Know the Words.**I'm disappointed. It started off strong but then lost its way. The scenarios are improbable and Robin's parts are uneven, switching between the child's and the adult's POV, and ultimately takes over the narrative, which is too bad, because Beauty's parts are more compelling. Also, the comic relief is too "cutesy," and feels forced. Structurally, it falls apart. In the beginning, the novel alternates perspectives and dates, bu **This review is based on the ARC of Hum If You Don't Know the Words.**I'm disappointed. It started off strong but then lost its way. The scenarios are improbable and Robin's parts are uneven, switching between the child's and the adult's POV, and ultimately takes over the narrative, which is too bad, because Beauty's parts are more compelling. Also, the comic relief is too "cutesy," and feels forced. Structurally, it falls apart. In the beginning, the novel alternates perspectives and dates, but by the end it's all Robin and a new section begins in the middle of the action, like it's marking plot points, which is weird and unnecessary. The plot itself is far-fetched and, at times, felt like Marais was checking things off a list. There's no real resolution, or, at least, no believable and pertinent one. I don't require a neat ending, but there are some major issues not resolved. I don't want to spoil anything so I won't go into specifics, but the ending is just unbelievable. I suspect Marais realized this, as evidenced from this paragraph:"I didn't know then what the future would hold. I didn't know that the story Beauty and I shared was far from over, nor did I know that the winding paths our lives would take--mine and Beauty's and Nomsa's--would go on to be so entangled that all these years later, I'm finding it impossible to pick apart the knots to separate them. But that's another story for another time." So there's more to come? Fine, but some things needed better explanation in this novel. I also don't like it when an author tells me what I just read and what I'm supposed to get out of it, something Marais does a lot. I know I'm being hard on the novel, but that's only because I think it could have been so much better. It started off so well and Marais has the writing ability, but it couldn't make up for the problems I had with a lot of the book. I still say it's a solid 3 stars, and probably will review well with people who like plot-driven books, even when the plot is, at times, unbelievable.
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  • Kari Sweeney
    June 17, 2017
    "Almost everyone who mattered most to me was in the same room.... Black, white, homosexual, heterosexual, Christian, Jew, Englishman, Afrikaner, adult, child, man, woman: we were all there together, but somehow that eclectic jumble of labels was overwritten by the one classification that applied to every person there: 'friend.' "This book was gorgeous. The story weaved love and loss in alternative points of view seamlessly through rich characters and a colorful landscape. It is told through the "Almost everyone who mattered most to me was in the same room.... Black, white, homosexual, heterosexual, Christian, Jew, Englishman, Afrikaner, adult, child, man, woman: we were all there together, but somehow that eclectic jumble of labels was overwritten by the one classification that applied to every person there: 'friend.' "This book was gorgeous. The story weaved love and loss in alternative points of view seamlessly through rich characters and a colorful landscape. It is told through the eyes of Robin, a 9 year old white orphan and Beauty, a 50 year old black woman who is searching for her missing daughter following the riots during Aparthied in South Africa. How circumstance, love and loss brings them together when they need it most. Beautiful book. Solid 4.5 stars. It wasn't planned, but I happened to read this in tandem with the audiobook 'Born a Crime: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood' by Trevor Noah. The two books made an excellent 'book flight' for those readers interested in a similar reading experience. Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for the arc in return for an honest review. Available July 11, 2017.
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  • Andrea
    June 12, 2017
    I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 4.5 but rounding up because I enjoyed it soooo much. The setting: Apartheid-era South Africa/Soweto, 1976.Robin, a 9-year old white girl, orphaned when her parents are killed by blacks.Edith, Robin's flight attendant aunt who loves Elvis Presley, names her parrot after him, and brings Robin to live with her.Beauty, a Xhosa woman who [eventually] takes care of Robin. Beauty's teenage daughter, Nomsa, who goes off with the rebel I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 4.5 but rounding up because I enjoyed it soooo much. The setting: Apartheid-era South Africa/Soweto, 1976.Robin, a 9-year old white girl, orphaned when her parents are killed by blacks.Edith, Robin's flight attendant aunt who loves Elvis Presley, names her parrot after him, and brings Robin to live with her.Beauty, a Xhosa woman who [eventually] takes care of Robin. Beauty's teenage daughter, Nomsa, who goes off with the rebels.And other, important characters: the Goldmans [Jewish neighbors, and their 12-year old son, Morris/Morrie], Maggie, the white angel, gay men, and moreTold alternately through Robin's and Beauty's voices; this tale is often heartbreaking--yet, interspersed with humor. A story of apartheid, heartbreak/loss, and love. There's a lot to absorb: black, white, Afrikaaners, kaffirs, Jews, gays.Naturally, Robin is bereft when she loses both her parents--as well as Mabel--the black woman who took care of her [Mabel returns to her home]. Robin turns more often to Cat, her "twin" [a figment of her imagination].The language is beautifully descriptive."...the terrain of my own life changed so utterly that I became a foreigner in it""Dark hairs sprout like spiders on the pale flesh of his fingers.""it seemed that while I'd been leaking sorrow, Edith had been damming the flood of her self-pity."Humor--often in conjunction with Morrie."what's a concubine?... It's a small animal that shoots quills out at people. Everyone know that.""do you know that Morrie's been circumscribed"... It means a rabbit cut his forefathers off, which means he has no willy. Do you think it will grown back again?""where's her horse? Edith said she'd be riding in one a horse" [i.e. the high horse she rode in on]And so much more.The story captured me from the start and I wanted to keep on reading to see how it would turn out. I most loved the developing relationship between Robin and Beauty and how it played out in their circumstances. Not a spoiler alert but the only "spoiler" for me was I thought the language/thought process [Robin's voice] at the end was far too mature for a 10-year old [she'd had a birthday].Still, a wholehearetd recommendation.
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  • Vernell
    June 2, 2017
    This to me is really a 4.5 stars book.
  • Milena Trpkovski
    May 25, 2017
    This story is so beautifully written, I am loving every minute! The story, the characters, they have me captivated.
  • Girl Well Read
    June 4, 2017
    A special thank you to Penguin Random House First To Read for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.Set in South Africa during Apartheid, the lives of two people collide and an unlikely bond is formed. Robin Conrad is a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in Johannesburg. Beauty Mbali is a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei who has been widowed and left to raise her three children. Divided by race, the two meet as a result of circumstances stemmed A special thank you to Penguin Random House First To Read for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.Set in South Africa during Apartheid, the lives of two people collide and an unlikely bond is formed. Robin Conrad is a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in Johannesburg. Beauty Mbali is a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei who has been widowed and left to raise her three children. Divided by race, the two meet as a result of circumstances stemmed from the Soweto Uprising—a protest by black students ignites racial conflict in which Robin's parents are casualties, and Beauty's daughter goes missing.Robin is sent to live with her irresponsible aunt, and Beauty is hired to take care of Robin while continuing to look for her daughter. Beauty and Robin become dependent on one another to fill the voids of their lost loved ones. With the threat of Beauty abandoning her once her daughter is found, Robin makes a decision without understanding the magnitude it will have on Beauty, also failing to realize that this could cost her everything she loves. Robin is taken on a journey of self-discovery, love, loss, racism, and what family truly means. Told from alternating perspectives, Marais creates a strong character in Beauty, and an unreliable/naive one in Robin. There were times where Robin was endearing, and other times she was unbelievably precocious and this, along with the ending, was the reason I didn't love the story. (view spoiler)[Would Beauty, after everything she had gone through, really have let Robin save the day? (hide spoiler)] I had incredible admiration for Beauty, not only for her intelligence, but for her compassion. Her stoicism and strength when met with such adversity was nothing short of amazing and I wish that the entire story was told from her perspective. She is well-written without being trivialized, Marais shines through her characterization.
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  • Angie
    May 31, 2017
    Marais' story alternates between the point of view of Robin, and 11-year old whose parents were killed on the night of the Soweto uprising, and Beauty, whose daughter was involved in the student uprising and then disappeared. Events bring them together, and Robin is the main character in the sense that she has the most changing to do, especially given her age. Beauty does not change much and plays the role of a somewhat stereotypical wise old African woman, but the story does lend her some depth Marais' story alternates between the point of view of Robin, and 11-year old whose parents were killed on the night of the Soweto uprising, and Beauty, whose daughter was involved in the student uprising and then disappeared. Events bring them together, and Robin is the main character in the sense that she has the most changing to do, especially given her age. Beauty does not change much and plays the role of a somewhat stereotypical wise old African woman, but the story does lend her some depth. In the end, Robin does something rather terrible and then grows up very quickly, almost unbelievably. But whether the end was believable didn't ruin the story for me. It's just plain good characters wound together with good storytelling. It's charming. I really enjoyed it. I can hem and haw afterward about the format and how accurate and representative the characters, but that didn't keep me from enjoying it. It delightfully dodges my misgivings. And it brings to life 1970s South Africa in a convincing way. I got a free copy to review from Net Galley.
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  • Kasa Cotugno
    April 28, 2017
    On the plus side, the fact that Marais was born in South Africa lends an eyewitness quality to this story, which is set in 1976-77. Told from two different viewpoints, the narrative centers around the Soweto student uprising in which schoolchildren protested the implementation of Afrikaans as the language of education, and in which extreme authoritarian brutality resulted in the deaths of reportedly hundreds of children. Beauty, a 50 year old teacher who lives rurally, had sent her daughter to S On the plus side, the fact that Marais was born in South Africa lends an eyewitness quality to this story, which is set in 1976-77. Told from two different viewpoints, the narrative centers around the Soweto student uprising in which schoolchildren protested the implementation of Afrikaans as the language of education, and in which extreme authoritarian brutality resulted in the deaths of reportedly hundreds of children. Beauty, a 50 year old teacher who lives rurally, had sent her daughter to Soweto for a better education, since she had obtained a university degree before apartheid made that impossible for natives. Her narrations had more of the ring of truth than those of Robin, a 10 year old girl who loses her family early on and is left in the charge of her unmarried aunt. Parts of this story ring true, particularly those as told by Beauty, but I found Robin's story, as told at a remove of some time in the future, not as compelling. There were some hilarious reconstructions of dialogue showcasing the innocent malapropisms of a young girl, but the expository material didn't work for me as well. In addition, there were some plot points that just didn't ring true. The ending hinted at a sequel, as it ended quite abruptly with unconvincing resolution. Still, I probably would read that sequel if it appears since I was interested in what the final outcome would be. In many ways, this seemed more appropriate as a YA novel.
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  • Jena
    June 23, 2017
    Heartbreaking and tragic. It will be a long, long time before this book leaves me.I went into this book a little blind. As my TBR piled up, I simply made a list of which reviews were due and dove in. The title didn't reveal much so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What I got was an incredible story about love and the resilience of life.I will admit that I probably would have been intimidated at the prospect of reading a book about Apartheid South Africa. This is a heavy subject matter. And it Heartbreaking and tragic. It will be a long, long time before this book leaves me.I went into this book a little blind. As my TBR piled up, I simply made a list of which reviews were due and dove in. The title didn't reveal much so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What I got was an incredible story about love and the resilience of life.I will admit that I probably would have been intimidated at the prospect of reading a book about Apartheid South Africa. This is a heavy subject matter. And it shouldn't be trivialized or glamorized. Perhaps the uncertainty of reading a book about a time and a place I don't know much about would have scared me, made me reach for something a little more in my comfort zone. But I am so glad I didn't. This book is overwhelming in its beauty.This book alternates between the narrative of Robin, a young white girl living in a Johannesburg South Africa in the 1970's, and of Beauty, an Xhosa woman desperate to find her daughter after she has gone missing after an uprising. Robin's parents are killed the same night Beauty's daughter goes missing, leaving her in the care of her well-intentioned aunt. Edith never wanted children and can't fathom changing her glamorous career as an international air stewardess to care for a child. Beauty's desire to stay in Johannesburg and search for her daughter coincides with Edith's need for a caregiver, bringing Robin and Beauty together.The most heartbreaking thing about this novel is how it deals with racism. Systemic, inherent racism where children are taught to hate another group of people simply for the color of their skin. It is hard to read. And heartbreaking because simple observations through the eyes of a child show how hate is taught, how it is learned."If people didn't come in the right colors, how would we know who to be scared of?"Both Beauty and Robin make such profound observations about life, and love, and power, so frequently they are shocking in their simplicity. Marais has an extraordinary talent in her ability to weave these thoughts together in a soft and subtle way. But like water, they are only soft and subtle in the right order. They can also be as hard and unmoving as a wall, hitting you with blunt force instead of washing over and around you.Beauty becomes a mother and grandmother to Robin, intertwined in a complicated relationship. She must keep many things about their relationship and living arrangements a secret, which is a large burden for an already burdened 9 year old. Both Beauty and Robin find solace with each other, and love with each other. Any book in which topics as hard, and heavy, and unbearable, such as racism, in my opinion, are heartbreaking. It's difficult to read about atrocious crimes, and hideous words, and odious actions. They aren't easy. I think the brilliance of this book is in alternating the experience of Beauty, with her lifetime of living directly with these injustices, and Robin, a child being taught (unknowingly) to be the oppressor. Robin repeats what she has been taught, stating hypocrisy or even outright hatred without thought. It is only when Beauty begins to question her beliefs, has her think about the reasoning or logic behind what she thinks she believes and what she has personally experienced, that Robin begins to decide who she wants to be. Beauty unroots the seeds that have been planted in Robin's mind, and allows new ones to grow in their place.Edith, in her own way also helps to unroot these ideas in Robin's mind simply by who she is. She has homosexual friends and doesn't agree with segregation. She isn't outright rebellious, but is still defiant in her refusal to conform. In some ways, this extends to how she cares for Robin. She loves her, but simply cannot change who she is because of what people think.I loved how Marais used the invisibility of children to highlight what we say as adults and what we do in a way that both highlights the absurd and confusing nature of adults, and society at large. Children don't know why we behave in certain societal norms, but they accept these norms anyway. Many of the things Robin says are funny, but also serve to show how much children listen, even if they do not understand."Children are invisible because we're thought to be powerless, so people say things in front of me here that they wouldn't say otherwise."This book is a complex look at the relationships we have with children. Whether our own, or us as children, we are shaped by who we are surrounded by. We can become good, or bad. Violent, or peaceful. Angry, or loving. All because of who shapes us.Our nature is to love. But love is often misunderstood, or manipulated, or changed. We carve it and need it so much, that our fear of losing it often keeps it from us."I wanted to find the words to express that I thought I was coming close to understanding the nature of love; that love can't be held captive, and it can't be bestowed by a prisoner on their captor, even if the prisoner is in a glass cage and oblivious to its captivity."This book is about love. Love of a mother and daughter. Love of an aunt and niece. And love between two strangers, brought together because of tragedy."I am learning how love wells up and causes great pain when it has nowhere to go."We are meant to love. This book strips down our complicated human nature and paints it in stunning simplicity. Along the way, we are exposed to a rich narrative showing the history of Apartheid South Africa. We are shown that the line between good and evil is often very blurry. That life is never as clear as we wish it was, and that truth comes in many forms.I highly recommend this book. It comes out July 11. Thank you Penguin First to Read for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book!
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