Book Review: The Path That Shapes Us By Lazola Pambo

In the space of just one week, 15 year old, Clifford Malothi discovered many unsettling things about life – some lethal such as his uncle’s (and only guardian) involvement with one of the criminal gangs in his township of Evansdale and some so sweet and tender such as the discovery of love which came in the shape and form of the exceptionally beautiful, Nandi Parker.

Clifford, adopted from a motherless baby’s home at the age of 6 by his uncle Edward Malothi had no reason to suspect that his uncle was anything but the carpenter he told him he was. Then words started flying about. Strange men visited his uncle in the house at night at and they had absurd conversations. Then a fighting incident at school involving Clifford opened a can of worms – he had messed with the ‘wrong guys’. The ‘wrong guys’ threatened his life and Clifford needed protection. Who will be his protector in the midst of all these uncertainties at school and on the streets? And who really is behind this warzone that the once calm Evansdale has turned into?

This situation also puts Clifford’s infant love affair with Nandi to test; will all the mountains that come their way be climbable?

This is the story that unfolds in THE PATH WHICH SHAPES US written by Lazola Pambo, a South African writer who perceptively uses the first person narrative voice beyond the surface. The author’s narrator adopts the voice of a 15 year old boy and he is able to completely inhabit the voice of this adopted boy with his uncertainties and fears as well as the discovery of the opposite sex as an interesting part of the human species. The narrator also expresses the views in the voice of a 15 year old in whose eyes the world is just unfolding but is yet to become clear. For example, Clifford is awake to the fact that Evansdale is no longer the safe place that it once was. Clifford is also aware of the fact that being summoned to a police station is not fun for anyone and can result in one being jailed for too long or for life.  He is also aware that if his uncle plays into the drum of war that is beating in the township, then he risks losing a very important pillar in his life which, as a matter of fact, might just crumble. But as the innocent 15 year old boy that he is, his eyes  are yet to open up to the complexities in the in-between spaces of these dangers and that is clearly seen in the black and white manner in which he looks at the world. This innocence is the tone that colours the events that the reader gets a glimpse of through the narrator.

This 233 paged novel foregrounds some very pertinent issues in not just slum settlements but urban areas across Africa as well. Drug abuse, illegal gangs, bullying in school, insecurity and the question of identity are just some of the issues which young people have to deal with today in the quest of becoming full adults. But does it always work out? Is it always neat and beautiful with a happy ending?

The innocent, childish voice used in the book for me comes off as a double-edged sword. A part of me thinks that it works wonderfully well and the use of this voice makes the younger as well as the older generation pay attention to the message that Clifford Malothi has to share. With this voice, it is even easier to empathize with his plight and the challenges that he goes through. Then keeping in mind the advantages of the first person narrative voice, the use of a child’s voice makes it very easy for the reader to ignore errors or rather, have a sympathetic approach when he tells absurd jokes or uses outdated idiomatic expressions.

But a part of me – the edgy and the uncompromising part—finds that it is very easy to lose patience with some of the absurd errors that the boy makes in the course of his narration. For example, beginning a chapter in what looks like the middle of a sentence or using paragraphs inappropriately gives me the impression that the writer is taking me for a ride.

The book uses very simple language and the story layout is such that you can follow without feeling as if you are being a co-writer. In other words, you do not struggle to understand the story.

I would recommend this book first to all the people who read and have a desire to discover the world around them. The second group I would recommend this book for would be high school and campus students in Kenya and Africa. Clifford might have seen himself at the end with no way out except following in the flow which would have been easy and convenient, but he still chose right. He knew there were chances that he would fail but he still just tried.

One last thing: do writers have a duty to morality?

The book will be available in bookstores such as Protea Bookhuise, CNA, Van Schaik and Exclusive Books. The retail price for the book is:
R159.99

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