My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This historical novel opens up in Cape Town, South Africa, 1976 during apartheid.
Twelve-year-old, Joshua dreams about his big brother, who works in Johannesburg, and he fears for his life. His mother, they call Beauty, not her Xhosa name is the maid in a white household, and she assures Joshua his brother’s fine.
Sent to live with his mother and the wealthy Malherbe’s while he recovers from tuberculosis, Joshua hides his presence. He’s not supposed to be seen. There’s a cupboard under the stairs, where he keeps out of everyone’s way, listening to the sounds of the house.
One day, he finds himself on a “whites only” street with money in his pocket. His mother had told him, “You must never let the police see you. You are not supposed to be here. You must be invisible.”
But when kind-hearted, Joshua comes across Tsumalo, a black man being hunted down by the police the outside world enters to the house of the Malherbe’s, and Joshua hides him in the shack no one visits. Tsumalo explains the cruel injustices taking place in South Africa.
“We are fighting for freedom, Joshua. The whites have the power, and they don’t want to share it with us. They call it apartheid.”
The two become very close, Tsumalo much like the father he never had. Joshua wants to return home to Ciske, where his grandparents live with his younger brother and sister. But he also wants to help, be like his brother, and fight for justice. Only he has to get an education, first, which is denied black people under apartheid.
An explosive incident happens at the Malherbe’s, and Joshua is separated from his mother and Tsumalo. But two years later, Joshua returns to the town he grew up, and to the house his mother worked, knowing he has to make a choice, a choice that could send him to prison without a trial.
Difficult and heartbreaking, readers follow Joshua through what he has to endure, through the ignorance of racism and apartheid. This book is a good starting point for discussions about human rights and democracy, but some passages may not be clear enough for young readers.
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