Period Pain by Kopana Matlwa
“Period Pain” is the third novel by Kopana Matlwa. The author is a rather impressive woman. She’s not only an accomplished novelist but also a medical doctor. More importantly, she’s still in her twenties! You may find my review of her debut novel, “Coconut” here.
Matlwa’s newest novel focuses on a very important South African issue, xenophobia. South Africa being one of the most attractive African countries in terms of economy naturally attracts many immigrants from other countries on the continent. Even though the immigration policy is getting stricter by the day, there are a lot of migrants in the country. As South Africa struggles with unemployment as it is, it’s also dealing with growing aggression and hostility towards migrants. Understandably, there’s also a strong link between the aggression and one’s economic situation. There have been violent attacks and murders of foreigners in townships, while the better earning immigrants usually just read about such issues in the news. Enough of the background, though!
The protagonist of the book, Masechaba, is a medical doctor. She suffers from a condition causing her painful, almost never-ending periods. As she is a believer, she assumes that this is perhaps some sort of punishment from her Maker and to him she addresses some of her entries in the diary. Her best friend, Nyasha is also a doctor and a foreigner from Zimbabwe. The latter experiences directly and indirectly a lot of xenophobia. Masechaba’s passivity in such situations enrages Nyasha. Eventually, the protagonist decides to do something to protect her friend and other foreigners. Unfortunately this behavior makes her a kwere-kwere (a pejorative South African term for a foreigner) protector and therefore an enemy for some people…
Apart from xenophobia the novel addresses other important issues such as violence against women and the ailing public health system. It is written in first-person narrative which seems to be Matlwa’s strength. It is easy to relate to the characters described and to understand their motivations. The form of a diary allows the author to serve raw emotions on paper to the reader, which is a very powerful device given the events described. The novel reminds the inhabitants of South Africa about the issues that we often don’t think about daily, at least not till another wave of violence happens. The title of Matlwa’s newest novel refers to the protagonist’s condition but is also a metaphor of the pains, which South Africa is going through as a country. May the protagonist’s friend be right in saying that this too shall pass? I guess only the time will show.
The fans of the author (if there are any to be found among my meager readership) may point out that I’ve forgotten about the novel which came after “Coconut”, “Spilt Milk”. I have not. I read it and find it to be an unconvincing and sentimental story of reconciliation. There are too many characters and the reader learns too little about them. The children seem overly mature and the adults overly childish. I don’t see the point of going on about it, though. I’d rather focus on the positive: Matlwa has written two good and important books and that’s more than I or you can say about ourselves 😉