Cultural juxtapositions often make for a novel’s intriguing plotline and rich textures.

The prologue to the charming debut novel, Loves & Miracles of Pistola (Penguin Random House), by Hilary Prendini Toffoli, doyenne of SA magazine writers, sets the scene: “In the ragingly racist SA of the 1950s it was unthinkable for the train stewards who served early morning coffee to the white female passengers in the sleeping cars to be black.” But whites scorned waitering. Prejudice and racism necessitated a plan, so the government sought to resolve the dilemma by recruiting stewards from the nation with the best waiters in the world: Italy.

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