Saturday 20 August 2011

The Water Man's Daughter

Finished August 19
The Water Man's Daughter by Emma Ruby-Sachs
This first novel by Ruby-Sachs is set in the townships of Johnnesburg, South Africa. A company is installing water pipes in the township, working with the government. It sounds straightforwardly as a good thing, but there are many underlying issues here relating to wealth, water rights, public health, and the gangs that arise in poverty-stricken areas.
Peter Matthews is an executive with the water company. He is from Canada, and when he goes out with a group of local politicians, something happens. The next day he is found, dead in the black township of Phiri, with his body mutilated.
Nomsulwa Sithu is a young woman who has grown up in Phiri. She runs an social organization fighting for water rights. Sometimes her activities have gone beyond the usual protests and meetings with local politicians. Her cousin Mira works closely with her. He sometimes needs to be reined in, but generally respects her judgment.
Zembe Afrika is head of the local police in Phiri. She has close ties to the community, but also move forward in her career. Sometimes her sense of social justice is stronger than her sense of criminal justice. Usually she can manage this, but this case may not develop that way.
Claire Matthews is the twenty-one year old daughter of Peter. She arrives in Johannesburg griefstricken yet determined to find out what happened to her father. Afrika pairs Nomsulwa with Claire as an escort, much against Nomsulwa's wishes. But Afrika has information about Nomsulwa that could harm her.
As we move through the story, we look at things through the eyes of the three women: Nomsulwa, Claire, and Mama Afrika. What we learn causes us to change how we think about the characters. What we think changes how we feel. This is a book about complicated lives, and will grasp you and keep you thinking even after you finish it. A winner.

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