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Sunday, September 4, 2022


Overall, I enjoyed this book as it gave an honest and sincere glimpse into the life of a young man on the verge of manhood. (Review by Fiona de Goede)

The second verse of any song has to be more killer than the first. This is the premise on which this book has been written.

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I picked up The Second Verse – Onke Mazibuko’s debut novel. As I lived in East London, circa 1998, at the time of which he writes, I was intrigued to discover my temporary hometown through the eyes of a young black man. It turned out to be quite an eye opener!

This is the story of Bokang Damane, a dreamer with the soul of an artist, in a prestigious sports-mad school and he just does not fit in. Life at home is unstable, to say the least – his mom tries her utmost to care for him and his two siblings, both younger than him, on her salary. His father, Ernest, an attorney with a serious drinking and gambling problem, cannot be relied upon and eventually his long-suffering wife divorces him. This results in Bokang having to go and live with Ernest in a squalid flat and the younger siblings get to stay in the family home in the suburb with their mother.

Bokang is at the age where he seeks to find his own identity, he wants to fit in and be accepted by the cool kids. When a beautiful young girl starts paying him attention, he is flattered and eventually falls in love with her. A disastrous event at the matric dance leads Bokang down a very dark and lonely road. He actually has to spend time at a psychiatric institution to necessitate his recovery.

This novel is a multi-layered coming-of age tale as old as time itself. Despite being surrounded by the ostensibly middle-class trappings of small-town suburbia, Bokang hankers to go to the bush for his initiation into the age-old tradition of all young Xhosa men. The dichotomy of this situation is beautifully illustrated and the deep spiritual meaning of the ceremony thoughtfully dealt with. The reader can sense how torn Bokang is between the two cultures that he has to straddle.

The characters in this novel are believable, the situations truthfully dealt with and the unfolding of Bokang’s journey from confused adolescent to young man with a plan for his future is heartwarming. His relationship with his mother is a very special one and the love he feels for his younger brother and sister is very endearing. His relationship with his father is far more complex and on occasion the bullying tactics that his father employed rankled and were quite upsetting.

Bokang uses the vernacular of the era and initially I found this a bit jarring – he refers to his home as his “crib”, for example. However, eventually it is not as noticeable and I am of the opinion that this style actually lends credibility to Bokang’s voice. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book as it gave an honest and sincere glimpse into the life of a young man on the verge of manhood

Mazibuko is a psychologist working in private practice. He loves learning from young people and writes to secretly fuel his dreams. He is currently busy with a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Pretoria. - Fiona de Goede

The Second Verse is published by Penguin RandomHouse - ISBN 978-1-4859-0472-4