In the novel Veils Of Smoke, Sarah Key weaves an enthralling tale of how young women in South Africa are forced to navigate life through a destructive, violent and deadly veil.
The protagonist Sinazo Biyela escapes childhood trauma and leaves her village in Ixopo in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province. After a brief stay in Alexandra township, she leaves unceremoniously on being lured and seduced by an unscrupulous and callous sugar daddy. Sadly, she learns that all that glitters is not gold, and that, easy come, easy go.
Veils Of Smoke is a uniquely South African narration that incorporates Sesotho, IsiZulu, Afrikaans and colloquial languages. Babalas, ayoba, blesser, dimamzo, zol, gwaai, beemer isporty, nyaope and mellow yellow are some of the words only South Africans will resonate with. The glossary helps too.
A psychological thriller that speaks to the supernatural. Kwetsi, after her tragic passing, is said to have gone to ‘The river of stars”. We note also how she speaks to Sinazo from the dead. “The Upside down world” is where serial killer Ndaki terrorized the village, also where Nonhlanhla and Sinazo grew up. Lucas is visited by his deceased grandparents who are not content with his evilness on earth.
Often we think that rape is a Black problem. The character Cassidy helps demystify that. We are also usually under the false impression that serial killers, rapists and perpetrators of gender-based violence are aliens from space. In the story, as in real life, the murderers and molesters are well known to their victims.
To bekezela (persevere) by wives is hugely problematic. The spouses of the killers, Tomas, and philanderer, Lucas, demonstrated the emotional abuse of wives who will stay on in marriages despite despicable acts by their husbands. The serial killer Tomas had the audacity to expect his wife Lindiwe, to assist in his escape from jail.
Sarah positions and writes Black characters with understanding and empathy. It is evident that the research was mainly through personal experience and interaction.
However, mama Zama performing burial rights and burying her business partner and admirer, Josiah, when there is a surviving biological sister is taboo. Regardless of Josia’s wishes, it would never happen in real life in Black families; mainly because the two were not romantically involved, did not stay together and were not married. It is unheard of for outsiders to bury one who still has surviving blood relatives.
Sarah is an English teacher, HIV and Aids activist, content developer and communication skills lecturer. She holds a masters degree in adult education. Her other books are Tangled Weeds (2014), a trilogy that constitutes The dandelion clock (2016), The butterfly wind (2016) and Starlight Tide (2017).
Veils of Smoke, although a work of fiction, paints contemporary South Africa to the tee. The interracial associations, Cassidy (white) had Black friends Sinazo and Jackson. Emile (white) was Bongani’s girlfriend. Violence, crime, poverty, inequality, new Black middle-class, blesser and blessee relationships are the order of the day. The book is fast-paced, free-flowing, with short chapters. I highly recommend it.