These may be the best books I have read in a long time. If you are wondering why they are being reviewed together, it is because they are, to say, similar, and have the same characters. The second book is simply a continuation of the first, giving closure for all the questions you may have after reading the first. I think they should be mandatory reading for every girl.
The Story of Maha introduces us to Maha, starting with her dramatic birth, reading like something out of a movie. The rest of the story is anything but idealistic, but rather real and relatable. The story is set in apartheid South Africa, and reads like a combination of well paragraphed diary entries. Maha’s father is a coloured while her mother is an Indian from suburbia Durban. Following the tragic death of her parents, the grandparents take her to the Maal Mahal where she finds a new often delightful, but also much more restrictive home. Reading the story, you get to experience Maha’s joys from good friendships and the thrill of learning, her frustrations when she is prevented from going further in school to find a Suitable Boy and make a good wife. It often feels like you are enjoying her cooking, as uncertain about the future as she is, and experiencing the highs and lows of adolescence.
In Maha Ever After, you will share in Maha’s new life at her husband’s home which is eerily similar to the Maal Mahal, so that her marriage is a different kind of bondage. The books are a love story, but not the usual boy meets girl. Rather, they are a lesson in self-love and self-discovery. Maha loves herself so much that you cannot help but love her, and love yourself too.
Sumayya Lee, the author, of both, uses a delightful combination of English, Gujarati, and Xhosa, making little attempt to translate the words but rather letting you deduce the meaning from context instead of breaking the narrative to loop you in. After the first few chapters, words like roti, siyabonga will start to make perfect sense. The books are also full of colourful cursing, especially by female characters which is a refreshing change from the prim and proper heroines in front of whom such words are not supposed to be used. The author skilfully highlights serious issues of apartheid, racism, and sexism without moving away from what appears to be the privileged life of Maha.
I loved both books for their simple alluring style, and the characters Maha loved, I loved as fiercely. These were books worth every (sometimes new) word and I would recommend them highly.
The Story Of Maha, and Maha Ever After are both written by Sumayya Lee. They were pubished in 2007, and 2009, respectively, by Kwela Books. They reviewed for Turn The Page by Ophelia Kemigisha.