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Hum If You Don't Know the Words
By (author): Bianca Marais
9780735218260 Paperback, Trade English General Trade FICTION / Literary Jul 11, 2017
$24.00 CAD
Active 5.97 x 8.99 x 1.09 in 432 pages Putnam G.P. Putnam's Sons
From a fresh new voice comes a perceptive and searing debut about Apartheid South Africa, as told through the story of one unique family brought together by tragedy: The Secret Life of Bees set in Johannesburg.

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a ten-year-old white girl living with her attentive 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 and affectionate but irresponsible and capricious 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, forging an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But when faced with the possibility of losing her caretaker forever, should Beauty find her daughter, Robin later makes a desperate decision that has devastating repercussions. 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 two narratives interweave to create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid South Africa. Hum If You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

Story Locale: Johannesburg, South Africa

HOT REGION FOR BOOKS: As seen with the recent success of Ghana Must Go, Americanah, We Need New Names and Homegoing, readers are eager to learn more about the African continent through fiction.

AUTHOR BACKGROUND: Born in Apartheid South Africa, Marais’ debut is inspired by her own relationship with the black maid who raised her and by her time volunteering with HIV/AIDS orphans. Her experiences offer verisimilitude and depth to the read.

RICH HISTORICAL SETTING: The authentic depiction of life in Johannesburg and rural South Africa create a remarkable sense of place, and Marais introduces readers to a lesser-known historical incident.

UNIQUE CAST OF CHARACTERS: The two heroines at the heart of this story and their colorful cast of supporting characters ring with humanity and humor, making for a delicious read.

RELEVANT ISSUES/BOOK CLUB APPEAL: With important and timely issues like racism and homophobia at the heart of the story, this is a perfect title for book club discussion and widespread review coverage.

Bianca Marais holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto’s SCS, and her work has been published in World Enough and Crime. Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and volunteered with Cotlands, where she assisted care workers in Soweto with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans. Originally from South Africa, she now resides in Toronto with her husband.

Author Residence: Toronto, ON

Author Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa

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“An important contribution to literature about racism in South Africa…it’s a powerful story and one with a perspective many of us haven’t read.”—Terry McMillan

“Bianca Marais’s compelling debut novel is a heartrending coming-of-age tale that not only illuminates the horrors of apartheid South Africa but also speaks with unmistakable relevance to the racism of our own times.”—Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Fates and Traitors

“Beautiful and tragic, intimate and sweeping, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words is a gorgeous debut novel. You don’t read this story, you live it. Bianca Marais creates characters with such love and compassion they nearly walk off the page.”

—Tish Cohen, bestselling author of Town House and The Truth About Delilah Blue

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