In my book circles, this offering by Richard De Nooy (published by Jacana in 2011) would not have made it into print. Well, the problem is not with De Nooy but those whose business it is to tell me that books can only be written in a certain way.
Generalizations, you will know, are unfair. The lead character, Alma Nel, is Afrikaner and those with a passing knowledge of the volk will know that they, at least most, speak atrocious English. Through De Nooy’s pen, Alma’ s proficiency, or lack of it, is comical.
On the ground, when the Afrikaner in question communicates in English, there’s no single or plural – even people IS. But Alma as the Afrikaner takes the cake. With a straight face, she tells the person she rendezvous with that “I have brung you some wine”.
Her gay son Staal, whose body she’s in Amsterdam to haul back home to rural South Africa after a drowning, was guilty of the same grammatical violation of the Queen’s language.
Staal had always preferred ‘girl’s things’ despite everyone else’s attempts to make him into a real boy – including his macho stepbrothers who were conscripts in the apartheid army. De Nooy, in my circles, would be branded homophobic. I still don’t know if he treats the subjects of homosexuality with respect. All I know is that he writes well and got me reading even when Alma was tracing Staal’s steps in the seedy world of flesh on flesh male sex where gay porn was the staple.
You will like the exchange between Alma and Sheikh. This becomes her name for him after a misunderstanding when they were supposed to shake hands after meeting. He’s her guide in the gay labyrinth that Staal made his home. Not only that, he’s black!
Back home in Zeerust, she’d never be seen dead seeking help from a black man. This much Alma herself confesses to.
It is in the Dutch capital that Staal himself breaks with his racial past and attendant taboos. His lover at the time of his death is Thierry Rosario –a black man!
In Amsterdam, Staal found the liberty to be his un-pretended self. He sang with the Nightingays, partied hard at the Cockring and found work at the Beau & Belle, a hair salon owned by gay pair Martyn and Dirk, who spoilt him rotten. They bought him hip clothes and lovingly called him Princess, allowing him a life he couldn’t dream of back home in Zeerust, the back of beyond and bastion of conservatism.
Alma ends up cremating her son, not returning with the body as she’d originally planned. Bury him here, she was implored, among the people who really loved her.
De Nooy’s The Big Stick is a good book – warts and all – that you’d do best to appreciate if you shed the Robert Mugabe -stereotype of looking at same-sex relationships.
© makatilemedia 02/2012