Book Lounge Book of the Year 2022
The late apartheid Cape Flats, contemporary Shanghai and China under Mao all come together in this remarkable novel with a wonderful, supporting role for the American poet, Langston Hughes. This extraordinarily ambitious book about how to make the world a better place, and about people trying to reckon with their history as well as their present, is simply outstanding.
How to Be a Revolutionary
A reluctant friendship develops between two people in an apartment block in Shanghai. Each has a secret, a hidden past that must not intrude upon the present.
Beth has been dispatched from Johannesburg to South Africa’s diplomatic mission in this vast Chinese metropolis. Newly divorced, childless, and uneasy about her decision to remain in the employ of a regime she distrusts, she is adrift in her own life.
Until she meets Zhao, her upstairs neighbour. Beth has heard him typing late at night, but Zhao insists she must be mistaken. Zhao – older, unmarried, and a former high-ranking Party journalist – becomes Beth’s friend, the one new friend she has allowed her grown-up self to make.
She is not prepared for a disappearance, followed by the arrival, through her mail slot in the middle of the night, of chunks of typewritten manuscript pages.
Woven into the story are Langston Hughes’s fictional letters to a South African writer about the poet’s own mysterious visit to Shanghai; Zhao’s quest to uncover the truth behind his mother’s disappearance during Communist China’s Great Leap Forward; and the story of Beth, a teenager whose decision to join the South African struggle will have far-reaching consequences for the woman she will become.