This is one of those books where a narrator with a relatively uneventful life tells us all about a friend who experiences more dramatic events. Ali lives a peaceful life in her Namibian village, though not always an easy one, as her husband (like most in the village) works out of town and she’s left to do the farming and childrearing on her own. But her best friend, Kauna, has an abusive and philandering husband – so when he suddenly drops dead, Kauna isn’t interested in pretending to mourn as the villagers expect.
The book's understanding of people made it an enjoyable read; the characters’ social interactions and reactions to their circumstances ring true to me despite the cultural distance. It was easy to imagine actually spending time with these women, which is not always the case for me with foreign fiction. The book immerses the reader in Namibian society in a way that’s accessible to a foreign reader without stopping to explain in a way that would make it feel geared toward foreigners. And it deals with issues that deeply impact the characters and their community, but have global relevance as well. I particularly appreciated Ali’s confusion and frustration at the way others seem to expect her to worship the ground her husband walks on simply because he doesn’t beat her and supports the kids – yes, that’s important, and she loves her husband for more than just those reasons, but are you really going to fawn over someone for meeting minimum standards for a decent human being? How do you respond when your minimum is unattainable for others?
The book’s downside is that there isn’t a particularly strong plot (much of the story consists of Ali reminiscing about past events), and that the writing is simple without being especially graceful; I had the impression the author was writing in her non-native language. Nevertheless, the straightforward style makes it easy to read and the book deserves more attention than it’s received so far.