In the South Africa of Reneilwe Malatji’s Love Interrupted, infidelity runs rampant without consequence, mothers-in-law judge their sons’ wives mercilessly, and women find it hard to attain respect no matter their social or economic standing. The unsentimental style of these stories packs an emotional punch as they examine post-apartheid patriarchy through the eyes of various observant black women characters.
A woman scolds her husband for his drunken behavior after he crashes his car through the garage door. A mother protects her four young children from their abusive father but can’t make herself divorce him. A new bride’s family tries to give the dowry back when her husband doesn’t consummate the relationship. The struggles of these women are ripped open and told with clarity and levity, even when it seems impossible.
In many of the stories, the first-person narration lends itself to intimacy, while the no-nonsense relation of events offers a juxtaposing distance from emotion. Each story feels like it’s revealing a secret about what life for married women in South Africa is really like. Most striking are scenes in which women realize how men’s bad behavior in their culture has become excusable. When a woman’s Nigerian friend comments on the lack of father figures in South Africa, for instance, she contemplates the history of mining and migrant workers, proclaiming that “love is a learned thing.” Without a father in the home—whether because he’s working afar or staying with his mistress—boys continue on the same path.
Each tale tackles a different issue with a woman’s keen eye: from the intensity of bachelorette parties to the superstition surrounding witch doctors to the pervasiveness of alcoholism. Love Interrupted reveals the dichotomies found in this country with a split identity, haunted as it is by colonialism but itching to join the Western world’s culture.
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