An Image in a Mirror, which was shortlisted for the UJ Debut Prize for South African Writing in English for 2019, is a classic story of the twins separated at birth with the hope that one would lead a better life in a different place.
We’re introduced to Nyakale, who is taken by her aunt and raised in South Africa while her twin sister Achen remains in one of the villages in Uganda.
It is an eventful journey of how their mother’s decision impacts how they grow up, their experiences inform the decisions they make.
What is clear throughout the book is the yearning that a mother and daughters have for each other as well as the strength of the twins’ bond traversing distance.
Ijangolet Ogwang is quite metaphoric in her writing which initially serves to paint clear imagery but loses its powerful effect as the story progresses due to overuse.
She also uses symbolism minimally but effectively with rain being a recurring symbol of transition in the book.
Her scene-setting is vivid but concise.
I was transported from the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg to the bustling city of Kampala seamlessly and I could feel the atmosphere, aromas and the character of the cities.
There are elements of poeticism to how she writes which is more prevalent in Achen’s point of view.
Based on the melting pot of different themes she touched on in the book, it leads me to believe that Ijangolet is an activist at heart.
The book deals with many societal issues such as xenophobia, colourism, women’s rights, single parenting, mental health, gender-based violence, Rhodes must fall movement, mobility and migration in search for safety or greener pastures, impact of war-torn countries on families, child soldiers, society expectations, marriage and what it represents, loss and identity.
There are numerous juxtapositions such as the wealth gap between the emerging middle class and the poor in South Africa despite the democracy and ‘freedom’ that has been attained.
She highlights the residual impact of apartheid on our daily lives and the way it mirrors our reality in different ways.
She also cements this by highlighting the irony of Uganda gaining independence from British rule, but still being dependent on them for aid through NGO’s that don’t see the people but focus on the poverty in their efforts.
She touches on the presumptuous nature of first world country representatives coming to Uganda and deciding which socioeconomic concerns are more important without consulting the locals about what they need.
Her environmental awareness shines through as she describes the reliance that rural villages have on subsistence farming and the impact of global warming on traditional methods of sustenance.
How drought can and continues to have far-reaching consequences in communities resulting in hunger and exacerbating poverty even further.
What shines through is the spirit of Ubuntu within the village through these times of adversity.
I loved the fact that African words were not italicised, which depicts that these languages are indigenous to our continent and not something foreign that needs to be written differently.
As a result, italics were used skillfully to set apart what was necessary through the letter that Nyakale reads from her mom and the last chapter which serves as the climax of the story.
I think character development could’ve been more well-rounded.
There are some decisions that both Nyakale and Achen make that are inconsistent with how the characters have been presented to the reader.
The number of themes in the book might have contributed to there not being enough scope to build the characters more.
It made me do some self-introspection in terms of my impact within the community I operate in.