SA still has a long way to go to fulfil the promises of democracy. More than 20 years after the first democratic elections, the country is still plagued by racial, social and political tensions.
Masechaba, a bright young medical intern, is struggling to fit into this SA, struggling to cope with the loss of her brother, who was her only friend, struggling with her religion, with rape, and struggling to deal with her demons, which have kept her from leading a normal life since she reached puberty.
Period Pain is the third novel from young writer Dr Kopano Matlwa, whose debut novel, Coconut, won the EU Literary Award in 2007.
Her portrayal of her deeply troubled main character, Masechaba, is so powerful that one can’t help but love and feel pity for her at the same time.
We first meet Masechaba as a teenager who has just got her first period, who soon discovers that this normal female hormonal occurrence will result in countless hospital visits, causing her not to have normal teenage experiences.
After graduating from medical school, Masechaba is faced with the realities and stress of working in a public hospital. She starts questioning whether she made the right career choice and questions the existence of God in her life.
Matlwa’s captivating and inviting style of writing takes the reader through all the trials and tribulations that Masechaba faces. She tells the story of loss, sadness and mourning. How she feels as though her whole world crumbles beneath her when her brother dies. How she deals with people and her mother, who chastises her for having a Zimbabwean friend when SA is going through a spate of xenophobic attacks.
And then, after she experiences the most tragic incident anyone could ever go through, she battles anger, deep depression and suicidal thoughts. But she somehow finds solace.
This novel is a compelling and interesting read that will take readers on a roller coaster of emotions on each page. It exposes the societal ills faced by this country and how different people deal with these.
And even though most of the book deals with tragedies and it appears that there will be no breakthrough, every page is enticing and not so emotionally draining that I could not continue reading. And it is beautifully written.
When it comes to telling real South African stories, Matlwa is a force to be reckoned with. I look forward to reading more of her books and watching how she develops as a writer.