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It's brutal, obscene and acutely insightful - Laduma by AK Thembeka

Michelle McGrane

Laduma by AK Thembeka
Pine Slopes Publications
First published September 2004
ISBN 0-9584755-8-X

The Queen's English is a feast of tedious moralities, a language ill-equipped to celebrate. I dream of cutting out my tongue and devouring it; my mother tongue. In this way to go beyond speech; to return to that oneiric solitude before language. - Laduma Moloi

It's brutal, obscene and acutely insightful. It's Laduma by AK Thembeka - Thembeka meaning "he that can be relied upon to tell the truth" in Zulu. This new South African writer is unafraid of public opinion and takes no prisoners in his radical and innovative first novel, a book that was published in September 2004 and has already been reprinted. The front cover illustration - an unsettling, enigmatic painting by V Mojapelo - vaguely hints at what lies between the covers.

In visionary, surrealistic style, Thembeka illuminates the convoluted labyrinths of one man's psyche and leads the reader on a mythological quest into no man's land in search of identity. Laduma Moloi, "Jozi's Toxic Messiah", is Thembeka's displaced, insatiable and inconsolable anti-hero who kills his girlfriend, his mother and his childhood friend on his journey towards self-realisation.

A hermitic dreadlocked figure in a modern wilderness, Laduma is neither a pleasant nor loveable protagonist, but it is difficult not to appreciate his intelligence and highly-developed consciousness. Part human, part holy, he is a multi-layered shape-shifter who burns with the fire of divine madness. In Book One, Bantu Nihilismus, he assumes various guises, including the magical Mantis, the Devil, Friend of the Gallery and Unemployed Gynaecologist. In Book Two, Uhuru Continua, he is reborn - as Kafka.

Thembeka is an enlightened spinner of fables who skilfully weaves cosmic symbolism into his work. A cast of black and "non-black" angels and demons trip through the stream of consciousness narrative, appearing, disappearing, and reappearing like delirious dreams and terrifying hallucinations. Laduma's seductive, elusive Angel of Death is queen of the action and, in the second part of the novel, confronts him with her irresistible force of attraction.

The pace of the novel is, at times, both manic and inspired. There is a savage pulse, an explosive sense of urgency, as the reader is taken across the bustling city streets of Johannesburg, over the continent to Europe, and back to South Africa, while being intermittently dropped down rabbit holes.

"Why I did it? Somebody has to play the Devil. It's a role the good aren't fond of. The good. The world teems with them and their tight-lipped sense of superiority. History's most virulent epidemic, the Bubonic Plague, was incurable and brought death to 43 million people. Which is not many people nowadays, unfortunately. We need something a lot more rigorous. Possibly that's why I did it. To get the ball rolling."

Laduma is a dance of death, a potent and revelatory brew of metaphysical dimension. Thembeka draws from a wealth of sources: philosophy, mythology, theology, the occult and classical literature.

This is a tale of exile, rage, despair, treachery and betrayal. Ultimately, however, like the first card of the tarot's major arcana, The Magician, Thembeka reminds us the universe is a cosmic game and reality is an illusion, a projection of our consciousness. There is much that is hidden, concealed, buried deep within us. We have the power to transform, to develop our potential by exerting free will, to become masters of ourselves and our destinies, and to determine the course of our lives.

In a letter to Oskar Pollak, Franz Kafka (the other Kafka) wrote, "Öthe books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation - a book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us." Laduma is a work of profound psychological complexity that will, perhaps, stay with the reader for the rest of his or her life.

Undoubtedly, many will find Thembeka's novel offensive. In this case, one could possibly consider Aristotle's notion that "it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Like the lifting of a veil, the unlocking of a door, or a stinging slap across the face, Thembeka's powerful, haunting voice will wake you from your fugue state and force you to see the world, if only momentarily, through new eyes. This is groundbreaking South African writing. Laduma is the challenging, risk-taking stuff cult classics are made of.

Laduma is available at better bookstores countrywide, and is also available directly from Pine Slopes Publications, P O Box 86, Westhoven, 2142, Johannesburg, at R150 per copy, including postage and packaging. Cheques should be made payable to Aryan Kaganof.

LitNet: 08 June 2005

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