Author: Thando Mgqolozana
Publisher: Jacana Media
Year of publication: 2014
Number of pages: 146
South African writer Thando Mgqolozana is well known for his two previous titles A Man Is Not A Man and Hear Me Alone. The first deals with a circumcision of a young man gone bad while the latter is an African retelling of the conception and birth of Jesus Christ.
In his newest book Unimportance, the Cape Town based author gives the story of Zinzi a student leader set to give a speech in a few hours for president of the student body in the University of Western Cape in South Africa. As he is writing the speech which will without a doubt shoo in his reign as President-elect he falls out with his girlfriend Pamodi who takes off. He goes off after her to prevent her from possibly making any statements that will damage his candidacy the next day. As he goes around looking for her, he goes through many “adventures” as he visits different rooms and even the campus drinking joint The Barn. After many tribulations, akin to seeking the Golden Fleece, he makes his legendary speech to much appreciation of students. The end.
I really loved this portrayal of campus life that those who went can recognize and those who never went can still work with. The different characters you find there; a roommate that nearly burnt down your room cooking in there, a guy that decides that now he is speaking in Nigerian pidgin (in my days Jamaican patois was king), Rastafarians drumming to chant down Babylon. Even the night scenes amused me no end as I recalled meeting ladies at the local tuck shop who were discussing whether they should have snacks that should be warmed or not.
Then there is the election itself as the book is smack in the middle of a student vote as the different candidates struggle for the soul of the school. His description is very good one as it mirrored elections for the student affairs council when I went to college. It showed clearly the “rich” candidates, the friendly candidates supported by business guys looking for tenders for school products, the whole lot of them.
Mgqolozana can really really write. It’s not every day that you find a book disclaimer that ends with,” Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is totally miraculous.” When you start a book like that you know that you are in for a very good read. He makes me laugh with segments like these;
“There were many more cars around Condom Square. It was dark as usual, and there were pairs of students leaning on each other and against gum trees. Tomorrow the area would be infested with used condoms. It is not Condom Square by accident, and when it isn’t, by day it is a convenient little park with readily available barbeque stands.”
These kinds of topics amuse the hell of out me as we had a “Condom Square” when I was in college although for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called (and no it’s not because I never had the pleasure of using the facility).
Then there is the author’s power of observation and bringing to the fore that is crazy. Describing how the protagonist showers leading me to try and figure if I too shower in his format (which incidentally I do). Describing the problems of using a laptop for longer periods; to put it on a table or on one’s lap? Those little nuggets are really great and I would recommend the book just for those alone.
The book doesn’t come without its flaws the most glaring for this reader being the ending. The one thing that I was rushing through to read was lacking leading to such an anticlimax. When I was done with the book I was deeply happy with the reading but deeply disappointed with the end of it all.
It’s a great book this one; in spite of that ending.