The manner in which the truth has been laid out so blatantly yet so simply is what makes Coconut a haunting read. This is a perfect depiction of the trouble many young Africans face today yet refuse to confront as the answers are a burden that has been carried forth from history, a burden that was not unsaddled when it should have been. The dichotomy of the dilemmas shows brilliantly the different worlds and issues young Africans are slapped with daily.
Ofilwe, a pampered and cultureless black girl growing up in the suburbs of Johannesburg is struggling to find her identity in the world she has been thrust into by the hands of her nouveau riche family. These same hands are responsible for the conflict within her that arises as she realizes the price that she must pay in order to gain admiration from the well-off, established and accepted white society around her that is quick to criticize and shove her in her place with one word of correction at every turn. She represents a generation of young blacks that is meandering its way in a world full of opportunity and privilege that is carrying its own weight under the heavy hand of uncorrected history.
Fikile on the other hand speaks for the majority as her life is more relatable. The young, out-spoken and sassy girl is more ambitious than the under privileged blacks that litter her township. Her intentions are to make her way into the world that devastates Ofilwe and her brother Tshepo, at any cost, a world she only knows from her magazines. From humble and unfortunate beginnings, we see Fikile’s intelligence shine through and push her to do whatever she can to make it, all at the same time trying to maintain her complexion which can hinder her ambition to be more pleasing to the white people and disassociate her from her black past. Even with their different pasts and unfortunate circumstances, the common denominator is their substitution of ignorance for truth and being blindsided by the unforgiving world that is a result of mistakes past.
The humor in Coconut is what makes it a pleasant read. It is bold and unafraid, and therefore that much more memorable. However, the writer moves in and out of events and thought patterns, and this may confuse an untrained reader. Rating: 7/10
Kopano Matlwa is a sensitive and empathetic writer. She is also very accomplished for her age. Coconut, which is her debut novel, won the European Award, and later the coveted Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature in 2010. She is a University of Cape Town medical school graduate and is currently pursuing a MSc in Global Health Science at Oxford University.