solitude

Alone not lonely in Apartheid South Africa

Maureen-MendelowitzAlone not lonely is Maureen Mendelowitz’s second novella to be published by Ginninderra Press (2018). See my post about her first book on this site. I attended the successful launch of the 2nd book at JewishCare Centre in Woollahra recently.

The date coincided with public awareness of domestic violence issues against women, including in Australia, and White Ribbon Day. The attractive front hall of the Centre in Saber Street was already packed with eager friends and visitors when I arrived.

Rada Pantzer, Jewish Care’s program co-ordinator for domestic violence, addressed this subject at the start of the launch, and spoke abut the concept of “gaslighting”, a form of emotional abuse based on humiliating the victim, that can lead to physical violence as well.

Domestic violence is a major theme in the novel. Another co-worker of Maureen’s, Charmaine Silove—who happens to be a member of Waverley Writers of FOWL—launched the book with a passionate review of its contents that whetted our literary appetites. Finger food and drinks were provided by Jewish Care, and Maureen happily got to sign many books at the end of the evening.

This is a heartbreaking, yet not totally negative, story that had to be told. And Maureen Mendelowitz, expatriate of South Africa during the Apartheid years, is the one to do it. Utilising her skills as a creative writer, the author gets across the horrific effects of the political system on its segregated inhabitants, especially women. She does it by creating vivid characters and settings, by applying humour and irony, by recreating realistic prosody—snippets of Afrikaans spoken by a coloured maid—and with the help of poetry. We are never, or rarely, told or forced to live the horrors, as Maureen and others had to. And yet we are shown what happened. It is often done metaphorically, as in the case of the “exploding dog” (page 31), an apt image of the violence of the system in South Africa. It goes without saying that young males and animals were abused in society as well. But this is a story about women in the society of the time.

The narrative is a universal one, with different faces and degrees of suffering, as instanced by the growing awareness of domestic abuse in the Australian society and media at the present time.

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We feel empathy for the characters, especially for the downtroddden and abused maid, Milly, who is the real hero in the story, for simply surviving her abuse.

I loved the part where she up and leaves her abusive husband, placing the wedding ring on a saucer in the kitchen and never looks back. (page 46). A real triumph in the midst of such repression against the coloured minorities during the Apartheid years.

And the clever juxtapositioning of the stories about two women, one white, the other coloured, in the same novel, is poignant and telling. Dana, the spoilt yet fragile white woman, suffers a similar fate to her maid, Minny, although the abuse is emotional rather than physical in the former’s case.

Background is given to show how main characters have arrived at their current situations. One of the interesting aspects about Dana’s past, is that, as a child, she was gaslighted by a coloured maid, which might go some way to explain psychological damage, and an unconscious lack of empathy towards Minny, at least in the beginning.

In this way, the author ensures that no one character in the novel is totally good or bad. It is the political situation that is the real villain. Domestic violence is also a metaphor for the Apartheid system itself.

You can purchase this book at Ginninderra and on Amazon.