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‘Isn’t that why we are alive, to feel alive?’| A Review of Mohale Mashigo’s ‘Intruders’

Some books just live their own lives, they come at you fast to take you into a space and time unknown to you before. ‘Intruders’ is one such book, it transcends familiarity, silence and fear. The fear of being different, the fear of thinking that another world is possible. It defies rules. These short stories carry themes that are acutely relevant. Mohale Mashigo found me and took me to a place where I was challenged to see things differently. Different is not always bad and this different was so good! ‘The Yearning,’ was a good and relatable book, one that I greatly appreciated when I read it and so it was only natural for me to expect Mashigo to do it again. She did. This collection of short stories, is the book that has my heart because it is not only about the present but a possible future.


Author’s Profile

Mohale Mashigo is a South African author, singer and songwriter. She is also a comic book writer. Her debut novel ‘The Yearning’ (2017) was a bestseller and widely acclaimed, winning the University of Johannesburg 2016 Debut Prize for South African Writing in English. ‘Intruders’ (2018) is her second book.


My Thoughts

‘Intruders’ is a short story anthology made up of twelve stories. The book is divided into three parts, The Good, The Bad and The Colourful. Each part consists of four speculative stories. In a note, where the author writes who this book is for, she says ‘…and for us, who never see ourselves in the stars but die in seas searching for them. You are everything.’ That is where she took my hand and walked with me through the paths of her world. There is a future that these twelve stories bring, yet even in that future the current questions we raise and problems we face are still an issue. These include the emergence, the place and power of a woman, the battle with drugs and all other forms of intoxicants in communities , relationships and their complexities, the place of memory in belonging and displacement in our existence, the climate crisis and its effects on the planet and its beings, femicide, obsession with keeping up appearances, light and darkness, unemployment, abuse and love. I found the truth about the light interesting through the lens of this book; how being the only light in the dark can be too much to handle and with time it can burn you.

The language used by Mashigo is accessible and she plays with her words in a manner that I admire. When I read the first story, ‘Manoka,’ I was certain that it would be my favourite story. The brilliance jumped out of those pages and landed right into my heart because in the end, I loved all the stories and they have stayed with me. Each of them is refreshing with unpredictable plots and convey pertinent lessons. It is like a sharp double edged sword. Dear Mohale Mashigo, you did that! The descriptive language in ‘The Parlemo’ is impressive and the story had me questioning what is easier to forget or to remember? What is more cumbersome to walk through life in ignorance of past mistakes made or to walk with the knowledge of lessons and fears that the memories represent?

‘Little Vultures,’ is gruesome and at the same time it raises questions on how far people can go to get what they want, the boundaries that can be destroyed and the hurt that cannot be carried. When is enough enough? In terms of appearances in a society that feeds on beauty, perfection & having it all? In terms of not dealing with losses that wreck our body, mind and spirits? Our obsession with all these things needs to be curtailed lest we find ourselves unrecognizable and be the worst possible versions of ourselves. I loved the progression of ‘Untitled’ in all the three parts of the book. ‘Manoka’ what a brilliant and affirming story about acceptance and the different powers which we all hold in our hands when we are born.

Mashigo also uses South African folklore to convey a message that even our old ways of telling stories are enough, they are loaded with meaning and effectiveness. Folklore is used in literature through different ways, yet what is crucial is the apparent and hidden meanings (e.g in metaphors and metonyms) which bear a great lessons. Mashigo’s use of folklore and urban legends has made me like her even more (this has something to do with my current obsession with the use of oral tradition and the place of cultural identity in our literature). We can borrow from the past tales, mediums and urban legends to depict and imagine. To tell stories that deal with issues that affect us in a space and time where historical truths can inform our present and future truths.

Here are some quotes from the book:

1. ‘Koko and I somehow had the ability to walk alongside our hurt and disappointment; we never let it get ahead of us or lead us astray.’ page 8

2. ‘How could he possibly describe anything when the world around him had lost its colour?’ page 27

3. ‘I birthed myself; it was bloody and painful but now I’m standing on the roof of a city as something new.’ page 150

4. ‘The city is like that: it loves new and shiny things; which also leads it to be a graveyard of previously beautiful relics.’ page 156

5. ‘Things that lurk in the shadows do not like the light. People get used to one tiny light and begin to seek out more of it in the world and in themselves – that’s how the light liberates us.’ page 159

I enjoyed reading this collection of short stories. Stories that served their purpose, to help me dream, to liberate, self introspect, to embrace death and reimagine rebirth. I appreciate stories that mirror society and help me to define and articulate certain issues that I would ordinarily have no words for. I am happy that Mashigo rejects the term ‘afrofuturism’ for her work because as she says, ‘Afrofuturism is not for Africans living in Africa.’ I love that streak of magical realism in this body of work. This book is for anyone looking for an authentic text, inspiration to reimagine society/life and anyone who is willing to accept that we actually live on this continent where our stories/experiences/dreams are valid.


Book Details

Title: Intruders

Author: Mohale Mashigo

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 200

Publisher: Picador Africa; Illustrated edition (2018)

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