It’s like looking through a friend’s photo album, or at your own reflection in the mirror. Cynthia Jele’s debut novel evokes the lives of successful, thirty-something, black women in suburban Johannesburg. Her characters — captured in moments of frozen realities — are so authentic that you’ll recognise them from your own life.
The book is divided into sections that focus on the four heroines, together and apart. Nandi, Zaza, Tumi and Princess are facing all the usual challenges, especially when it comes to love. Nandi Hadebe, the group’s confidante, has just recovered from the worst break-up of her life, only to find love waiting for her in the self-help aisle of a bookstore in the form of Thomas Phiri, now her fiancé.
Thomas is also on the rebound, after ending a relationship with his son’s mother. So far, so good, but when Nandi’s charming heartbreaker and ex-fiancé, Chris Phakathi, returns from the United Kingdom he lures her back into his web and almost ruins her relationship with Thomas.
Then there’s Zaza Zulu — socialite, glamour queen and orphanage founder. She’s married to Bheki, a rich older man, and she has only two fears: losing her children and all the wealth. This is exactly what might happen if anyone finds out about her wild affair with Bongani Gumede. With only “a matriculation certificate, a two-year diploma in secretarial studies, a bleak modeling career and an unsatisfying job at the bank”, how would she fend for herself without Bheki?
Jele’s third heroine is Tumi Modise: loyal wife and schoolteacher married to a Casanova called Tshepo. She has stood by his side through thick and thin. Now, almost seven years into the marriage, having suffered three miscarriages, she has an ever increasing desire to have children, but has just discovered that Tshepo is about to father a baby with a much younger woman.
Finally, there’s Princess Mokoena, a successful women’s lawyer who has fallen for a Zimbabwean painter, Leonard Moyo. Growing up with an abusive father who killed her mother, Princess has always been wary of men. Soon after her mother’s passing, she vowed never to see her dad again. Now, many years later, she is pregnant with Leonard’s baby.
Leo, the frustrated artist turned drug addict who proposed marriage before he robbed her of all her prized possessions and disappeared. Should Princess use this opportunity to make amends with her dad?
This South African chick-lit novel celebrates sisterhood, friendship, family and the complexities of relationships and desires. It also proves that human beings are seldom ever satisfied. It’ll make you laugh and cry — and even teach you a few lessons. Mpumalanga-bred Jele, is not new to the world of writing. She won first and fourth prizes in the 2008 BTA/Anglo-Platinum Short Story Competition. Let’s hope she doesn’t wait too long before her next visit. It’s like having coffee with your best friend.
Since writing this review in 2010 Jele’s book was turned into a screenplay and debut in cinemas throughout the country in 2016. She has also recently released her second book, The Ones With Purpose (2018), I’m yet to pic that up.