My love for all things literary had been slipping. I was worried that I was losing the one thing that I have always enjoyed – reading. Without the reading pleasure, what else could I unreservedly enjoy? Anyway, a trip to Johannesburg sent me on a bookshop trawl, trying to discover what’s new on the literary scene and what could spur those literary juices flowing again.
My trawl revealed a book that I was initially sceptical about – Zulu Wedding by Dudu Busani-Dube.
This is an unconventional book – whereas films are adapted from books, this book is an adaptation of the movie, Zulu Wedding.
Zulu Wedding, the book, was never a “love at first sight” kind of affair for me – the shop attendant at the bookstore introduced me to it. This is because the book itself doesn’t give a summary of what the book is about as is the norm at the back cover of the book; instead, it gives an excerpt of a dialogue in the book. I initially found this irritating, like how do I know if a story is one that I will enjoy based on a dialogue whose origins or end is unclear? But count a 100 pages later up in the sky on my flight home, I was engrossed. Come to think of it, this approach by the writer to not have a summary of the story on the back page is a good one – just like we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the same can be said about judging a book by the back page summary. We must literally delve and savour what the book has to offer.
Zulu Wedding is an easy read, a book that draws you in with simple but eloquently crafted sentences; each leading to the next to weave a story that both pulls you in and holds you tight as you wait with abated breath to discover what happens to the protagonist, Lungile “Lou” Sabata.
Lungile “Lou” Sabata is a feisty young woman whose early life is generous with privilege and protection from the harsh world. She is the daughter of a Sotho world-famous artist from Lesotho and a Zulu princess from Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa.
In pursuit of love and happiness, Lou’s parents make a bargain with a traditional king. This bargain or covenant haunts Lou in her early years of adulthood, prompting her to “run” away from all that is familiar and her roots to follow her dream of becoming a professional dancer.
In a whirlwind kind of way, Lou leaves the comfort of the affluent Sandton Surburb, south of Johannesburg to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer in New York. She almost immediately takes to New York but the city doesn’t immediately take to her. Lou’s one fault is that she sees everything until its end – good or bad. Lou stays with situations and people until she is convinced that it is the end; which is somewhat contradictory because she ran away from the covenant that her parents made even before she was born; a covenant that although locks Lou into some seemingly far-fetched ideal, it is one that shrouds her every milestone until she decides its eventual end can only be via a plea of reasoning. This covenant traditionally means that she is the betrothed wife of a Zulu King.
It is not until Lou finds herself in the company of King Zweli without realising he is the King that she is taken not only by his charm but also by the eloquent and captivating portrayal of the place of her mother’s birth. Both seem to give her a profound sense of home-coming, an inexplicable sense of belonging that has perhaps lacked throughout her life.
But while Lou is somewhat taken by the charm of King Zweli and the Zulu Kingdom, she is also about to be married to her New York lover, Tex. In her pursuance of seeing things to the very end, she flees on a journey that she convinces herself is a journey to bargain and put an end to an age-old covenant. In the process, she misses her wedding to Tex. In a state of bewilderment and consternation, her sister, friend, and fiancé, decide to follow her to Kwa Zulu Natal – there is shock among the three and many questions but the events surrounding what happens afterwards are shrouded in mystery. The author leaves much to the reader’s imagination.
From the title, one expects the usual and tired story of romance, love and traditional marriage or wedding, but the author expertly takes us on a journey of all three except not for the same two people as would be expected; and through it all, the reader can clearly see the linkage of each of the characters and what they experience.
The end of this book is somewhat of an anti-climax; there is Lou with King Zweli and Lou’s fiancé, Tex in an apartment in an affluent part of Durban, Kwa Zulu Natal. She seems undecided but that’s about it – the author leaves the reader in suspense.
I guess this is another ploy by the writer to engage the reader much more than just “tell a story” – perhaps it is for the reader to end the story the way they want to. If I had to end this story, I think the covenant made by Lou’s parents has a much more stronger hold than we can logically explain, it feels like the eventual end is that Lou and King Zweli are destined to be together not only because of some cultural bargain but also because of pure, unadulterated love; born before it was born – the story is testament to the complexity that our lives are and that some things in our culture and tradition, even though passed on by word of mouth are not things we can easily explain.
Overall, the book is worth a read and is definitely a page turner even though it has some grammatical errors that can sometimes get annoying. I think Dudu Busani-Ncube is a brilliant, no fuss writer but I also think she needs to get some really good proof readers/copy editors for her works. Otherwise, she is definitely one young author to look out for.