Title: Sigh the Beloved Country
Author: Bongani Madondo
Publisher: Picador Africa (Imprint of Pan Macmillan South Africa)
Number of Pages: 502
Before you start reading this piece, how about we start our reader-writer relationship with a small disclaimer.
I’ve had this book for over three months now, and it took me two of those three months to garner up enough courage to crack open my laptop and attempt to write a review on it. Once I eventually did garner up this courage, the actual process of writing this ‘review’ was a twenty-two hour and thirty minutes orgy of editing, rewriting, re-editing, then rewriting the rewritten version – and also involved two episodes of sitting in the corner of my room in the foetal position, questioning the (over)confidence I’ve had on my skills for the past two years; two one hour sessions of watching you-can-do-it motivational videos on YouTube; and one “I’m sick of this sh*t” status update on Facebook (granted that the status was triggered more by my academic life than it was by writing this, but that’s not the point).
So, with all that being said, even though it is presented to you as one, this is not a review of Bongani Mdondo’s book. Thing is, I’m too much of a Madondo fan to be objective enough to produce anything that has even a close resemblance to a review of his work, and I’ve accepted that as fact. So, if anything all, this sorry excuse of a ‘review’ you are currently reading is more like a 800+ word endless string of sentences in which I attempt to explain to you why I believe Bongani is a literary jedi – sent by some literary knightly order to make us enjoy being confused by complexly and meticulously written references to rock ‘n roll and jazz.
Now, with all that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff …
Sigh the Beloved Country is a 502-page opus in which Bongani expresses his fervor for all things Jazz, Rock ‘n Roll, and Brenda Fassie. It is a collection of 40 eloquently-written essays – which Bongani has written over the years – ranging from ones where fallen-but-not-forgotten music legends such as Busi Mhlongo; live in the same pages, sometimes even in the same sentences, as their modern-day contemporaries and beneficiaries of their hard-earned legacies, the likes of Thandiswa Mzwai; to essays that read like love letters he wrote to his favorite people (especially the ones he wrote about Ma-Brrr); to ones where he speaks about his life and how he got to become the literary sensei that he is today.
This book, in more ways than one, is testament of Bongani Madondo’s genius, in both the literal and literary meaning of the word. In it he uses prose that is both confusing and captivating at the same time: I mean, never in my entire reading life have I ever been as OK with being befuddled by references to rock ‘n roll as I’ve been with this book – not to say that I ever read books with befuddling references to rock ‘n roll to begin with. There are essays like “The BLK JKS On the Dark Side of the Moon”, where I was lost 90.65719% of the time, but I still enjoyed reading because of Bongani’s brilliant writing skills.
But, reading it wasn’t all confusion and fog, though. His brilliant and unique biographical writing technique made me enjoy the biographical pieces he wrote in the book. Let’s be honest guys, autobiographical writing is probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest type of writing there is. It requires one to have an eye that sees beyond the obvious, a mind willing to sieve through mountains of information to find things others have missed, and a hand that can put all that information in a coherent and gripping way. Bongani has all of those and more.
As soon as I started reading the first essay in this book, it immediately made its way into the Top 10 of the best books I’ve ever read and, with every essay I read from then on, it kept crawling up the rankings until it eventually made it into my top three. This book is nothing short of a masterpiece and Madondo is nothing short of a master in writing it. Like I said in the beginning, I can’t be objective when it comes to Madondo’s work, but I’m certain that if any of you read this book, you will get to understand why I believe that discovering and reading his work is the literary equivalent of finding your soulmate after years of dating people from the scum-pool of the dating world.
Final comment: Find it, read it, and never let it go!