Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: The journey of self-inflicted guilt...

The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga gives you a front row seat of the effects of self-inflicted guilt.

Photographer: Tokiso Molefe
Opening line: “Ten years ago, I helped a handful of men take my little brother’s life”. My thoughts when I read this ranged from, “did you hate your brother”, “were you a messed up druggie”.

What follows is a story of a young man who is infested with guilt about a decision he made but honestly – he didn’t kill his brother. The circumstances that lead to his brother’s death haunt him for a long time. He even infects himself with HIV to punish himself.

There are so many “oh wow, he did that” moments in the book. The book also plays on the theme that “birds of a feather stick together” – his friends Ruan and Cecelia are as disturbed as he is. One cannot understand what their goals and ambitions in life are. I had actually convinced myself that the book would end with some, ‘assisted suicide’ mission. That’s how troubled these young people are.

They are illegally selling ARVs in Cape Town while smoking everything from industrial glue and weed inbetween living. They are a restless trio. Hence they become the perfect victim for a sick man wearing a mask. 

The book is set pre-2003 just before HIV treatment was available to South Africans. Before then cabinet had not approved it. 

The three are very different in their sameness. Different circumstances brought them together but there is a sense of depression that connects them. 

What I enjoyed about this book is the protagonist’s, Lindanathi, consistency. There is something realistic about him – there is no happy ending to The Reactive. I love stories/movies like that. It’s something many can relate to. Decisions are made and lived with. Not necessarily for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – but it’s that feeling of, “I’m alive so – this is my cross to carry”.

The Reactive left me with that feeling – it’s not a book motivational speakers would encourage you to read – it doesn’t have the energetic “YES, YES, YES”.


Ntshanga’s writing is worthy of all the awards bestowed on him. His writing lets you into Lindanathi’s space, see things as they are and feel things as they are presented. The simplicity of telling a complex story kept me gripped. He has a skilful way of subtly telling the reader that one can’t run away forever – you have to face the things that keep you awake at some point. 

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