This modern tale introduces us to the Mafu family set in the backdrop of the tumultuous Zimbabwean economy in the 2000s. We meet Pastor Abraham and his wife Phumla as well as their three daughters Xoliswa, Yandisa and Zandile.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that there are many secrets and hurts that are concealed or buried – sometimes using verses from the Bible as justification − with the help of the extended family, Sis Lungile and Sis Ntombi – Abraham’s sisters.
The theme of marriage is one that is explored in great detail throughout the book. The story delves into the societal expectations placed on women when they reach what is considered ‘marriageable age’ and the importance of respectability that is attached to the institution. “You might be educated and successful but if you aren’t married you’ve failed in life. Marriage is an achievement.”
Nyathi highlights the concept of lobola, strife that makotis experience because of having such a title in their in-laws’ homes and the confining impact it has on one who marries young.
There are many characters in the book and because she writes in third person, it creates a rich narrative giving readers a more expansive view of the plot. The multiple characters give you a well-rounded view of the world on various topics. As a result, there are many themes that the book explores including Christianity, gender-based violence, sexual assault, death, mental health, black tax, infidelity and the mass exodus of Zimbabweans to different parts of the world, to name a few.
The story traverses different time periods from the 60s to the 2000s but the transitions are artfully done that it doesn’t feel disconnected from the narration.
The outbursts of humour scattered throughout the prose makes the read entertaining while dealing with some heavy topics. Nyathi’s colourful use of similes and metaphors brings her descriptions of the characters and the situations they face to life. The periodic use of Ndebele lends authenticity to the text.
The running thread throughout the story is the resilience of the human spirit through the most trying times. The supportive nature of family shines through strongly and that despite whatever differences there are, they’ll always unite to protect their own.
“It would appear from the outside that there are no broken branches in this family tree. That they are a picture of perfection but then she realises that some families just hide the splinters better.”
A Family Affair is Sue Nyathi’s third novel following The GoldDiggers and The Polygamist.