In Way Back Home (2013), Niq Mhlongo writes briskly. His style doesn’t seek to linger, and he doesn’t attempt to infuse dense prose in his story. One therefore notices the fast paced and upbeat quality of the book early on, and I would suppose it was intended for the young adult segment (I say this without intending to diminish the quality of the book). It is thus a quick and engaging read, but one which, should one’s preferences tend towards richness of nuances and prose, may not be particularly rewarding.
Way Back Home is a prototype that uses the life of Kimathi Fezile Tito to bring back to the fore the often forgotten atrocities and human rights abuses that occurred in the African National Congress (ANC) camps in exile. Kimathi (as a Kenyan, I am happy to see Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi recognized), by virtue of his past as an ANC comrade and freedom fighter in exile in Tanzania, has gained immense wealth and influence in post-apartheid South Africa. However, his past in exile returns to haunt him, he finds no peace, and his life falls apart.
Mhlongo has written a book that reads as a personal turbulence as well as a conscientious reminder. It makes a strong case, albeit at a personal level (the haunts dogging Kimathi), for accountability for, or at least acknowledgement of, past atrocities within an organization known for fighting against injustices of the apartheid era. It also highlights the challenges of the transition from apartheid in South Africa, such as the attendant corruption and cronyism. But, perhaps, the main underpinning of Way Back Home is a tribute to and recognition of African culture and beliefs, principally the belief in the appeasement of ancestral spirits. It may therefore be a strange read for some; for the fainthearted averse to shadows lurking in the dark, it may get a little scary.
Flashbacks have been used effectively, and bring home the essence of the story powerfully. As a mystery, the story reveals itself rather quickly, aided by the simplicity of its prose. I would say the book is more of a thriller than a mystery; it is a sprint rather than a marathon. It didn’t blow me away, but I definitely would like to read Niq Mhlongo’s more acclaimed offerings, Dog Eat Dog and After Tears. If you want a quick weekend read that doesn’t demand too much, this should do.
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