Review: Intruders by Mohale Mashigo

This article was originally published on the Wits Vuvuzela website on October 10.

Award-winning South African author Mohale Mashigo’s latest collection of short stories is an electric and provocative work that explores real South African issues using the unreal.

Mohale Mashigo first entered the South African literary scene with her University of Johannesburg (UJ) literary prize-winning novel, “The Yearning” (2016), with which she established herself as a powerful literary voice capable of weaving together the real and the unreal through the use of lyrical storytelling and dream-like descriptions.

 
She has carried that voice into her latest offering, a collection of short stories titled “Intruders” which was launched in Rosebank, Johannesburg, on September 29.

 
The 12 short stories encompass a range of speculative fiction genres, from fantasy, to science-fiction, to magical realism. Each story explores South African contemporary issues such as being and belonging, the devastating aftermath of Apartheid-era violence and the impact of gender-based violence.

 
Within the opening pages of the collection, Mashigo includes an essay on Afrofuturism, a genre of speculative fiction created by African-Americans imagining a futuristic world where black people are the majority and there is an intermixing of African culture with technology.

 
In the essay, Mohale speaks of a popular 1980s South African song called “Ayashis’ Amateki”, which describes a beautiful pair of shoes that do not fit the wearer. She adds, “It would be disingenuous for me to take Afrofuturism wholesale and pretend it is ‘my size’. What I want for Africans living in Africa is to imagine a future in their storytelling that deals with issues that are unique to us.”

 
This is a task that she tackles throughout “Intruders”. The result is “Ghost Strain N”, a story about a zombie outbreak caused by nyaope addiction in Johannesburg, “BnB in Bloem”, a story about a female spirit avenging victims of gender-based violence in Bloemfontein and “Little Vultures”, an Island of Dr Moreau-style story of man-made genetically enhanced monsters in the Karoo. The stories are an exhilarating and refreshing take on what has become overly familiar lore in the wake of the “Harry Potter”, “Game of Thrones”, and “Star Wars” sagas which have led to an explosion of fantasy and science-fiction works.

 
Throughout some of the stories, characters make references to B-grade Hollywood movies to try make sense of their new and strange realities but the references don’t quite translate. They are not the character’s “size”. This creates an interesting social commentary on the phenomenon of young South Africans copying and pasting aspects of American culture, despite those aspects failing to translate to their context.

 
The book includes some stories that don’t work quite as well. In stories like “The Palermo”, Mohale sacrifices storytelling for world building, giving readers an exciting concept of cafes that take bad memories away from those who enter, but never properly develops it through the story, leaving the reader feeling as though they’ve smelled a wonderful meal they never quite got to taste.

 
“Untitled”, a story of an apocalypse, is broken up into three parts but reads more like an excerpt from an unfinished manuscript rather than a self-contained short story as it doesn’t offer any conclusion to its narrative.

 
On the whole, however, the collection is distinctly South African, both in terms of the setting and themes that are developed and discussed within the book.

 
It is a must-read for fans of the work of Lauren Beukes and Nnedi Okorafor or anyone else who is looking to add something different to their summer reading list.

 
“Intruders” by Mohale Mashigo. 2018. Picador Africa. 180 pages.
FEATURED IMAGE: “Intruders” is the latest offering from author Mohale Mashigo. Photo: Naledi Mashishi

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