Set in South Africa during Apartheid, the lives of two people collide and an unlikely bond is formed. Robin Conrad is a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in Johannesburg. Beauty Mbali is a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei who has been widowed and left to raise her three children. Divided by race, the two meet as a result of circumstances stemmed from the Soweto Uprising—a protest by black students ignites racial conflict in which Robin's parents are casualties, and Beauty's daughter goes missing.
Robin is sent to live with her irresponsible aunt, and Beauty is hired to take care of Robin while continuing to look for her daughter. Beauty and Robin become dependent on one another to fill the voids of their lost loved ones. With the threat of Beauty abandoning her once her daughter is found, Robin makes a decision without understanding the magnitude it will have on Beauty, also failing to realize that this could cost her everything she loves. Robin is taken on a journey of self-discovery, love, loss, racism, and what family truly means.
Told from alternating perspectives, Marais creates a strong character in Beauty, and an unreliable/naive one in Robin. There were times where Robin was endearing, and other times she was unbelievably precocious and this, along with the ending, was the reason I didn't love the story. Would Beauty, after everything she had gone through, really have let Robin save the day?
I had incredible admiration for Beauty, not only for her intelligence, but for her compassion. Her stoicism and strength when met with such adversity was nothing short of amazing and I wish that the entire story was told from her perspective. She is well-written without being trivialized, Marais shines through her characterization.