Bianca Marais is such an amazing storyteller. I fell in love with her writing when I read If You Want to Make God Laugh and Hum if You Don't Know the Words fulfilled all of my expectations. Both of these novels have a rich sense of place that transports you and teaches you about a world otherwise unknown. I knew very little of South Africa and the apartheid before reading Marais' novels and I have enjoyed learning more about the government and cultures. Hum if You Don't Know the Words is the perfect balance of character and plot driven, with two leading female protagonists with completely different experiences whose stories intertwine.
Robin is a precocious little girl who lives in within her vivid imagination. Beauty is an educated black woman who understands how the South African government works, abides by the rules, but silently pushes the envelope. Robin's imagination allows her to see past the prejudice that surrounds them and Beauty knows firsthand how harsh their world can be. Both women face extreme losses in their lives and are separately grieving; Robin loses her parents who are murdered during an evening out and Beauty is on the search for her teenage daughter who goes missing after a peaceful riot that turns violent. Robin and Beauty's paths cross and they end up finding comfort in one another. What begins as a relationship of convenience, ends up becoming deep love for one another, and the two help each other in different ways.
Hum if You Don't Know the Words is beautiful prose that brings Robin and Beauty to life. I loved how they each had their own conflict and separate stories, but then melded together for the resolution. Marais is a talented writer with a gift of bringing these characters to life, while also teaching you something. I swear this book has helped me get a better understanding of the politics in Africa. I love a book where I fall in love with the characters, become invested in their plot, and also learn something in the process. True to the books title, this story is about "faking it until you make it," despite the risks. Beauty put her life on the line to find her daughter and Robin risked everything to show Beauty how much she meant to her.
If you are interested in reading my review on Marais' recent novel, If You Want to Make God Laugh, click on the title link. Both of these books are solid five star reads for me and both will be books I recommend for years to come.