‘The Woman Next Door’ Is Both Spare And Rich

With her second novel, The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotosho declares that she is, unashamedly, South African.

Having lived in the country for 25 of her 37 years, the writer feels entitled to write a full bodied South African story without shying away from the politics.

Located in Cape Town like the first novel (Bom Boy), this new book has a far more ambitious scope. The characters are few and they unravel slowly. The writing is spare, illuminating big issues through small nuggets of detail. None of the major characters is Nigerian, but the spirit of the country hovers around, playing a significant role in the life of Hortensia, the Barbados-born leading protagonist.

Omotosho throws a lot into this pot: architecture, design, lifelong career choices determining financial stability in retirement, all of them carefully put together without spoiling the broth.

The novel is clearly about racism, then and now, in Europe and in Africa. It’s about sharp differences between an unreformed white racist and a bitter black Caribbean immigrant, both of them in their 80s.

But overall, it is a simple human story about difference.

If you must look for Omotosho’s references without asking her, this spare writing in which extremely short sentences are laden with history recalls Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People and John Coetzee’s Disgrace.

The intimate painting of black people’s harsh lives against white people’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the harshness references all of Andre Brink.

In essence, Ms Omotosho sounds closer to white South African literary legends than black masters like Zakes Mda. But her voice is distinct. It is as eloquent as it is urgent.

Read an excerpt

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