A review of Keletso Mopai’s debut If You Keep Digging
I want to start by letting you know that I am a little nervous and maybe even intimidated to write this review. I do not feel I will do the work justice. I don’t know if there are enough words to properly convey the experience I had reading these stories.
A few days ago on my Facebook, I compared the experience it to taking smaller bites of a great meal so it lasts longer. It took me just over a week to finish the book because I was heartbroken from the first story about the fact that the book will end and before I know it I would be reading the last story. So, I paced myself to preserve my heart and to maybe forget Madness (the first story in the collection) long enough to be able to dive back in after the final story Blood of Filth.
Keletso Mopai writes about real-life issues with such authority, she puts, you, the reader in the room and makes you feel like you are the fly on the wall. Many nights this past week I found myself desperately wanting to sleep but, her stories called out to me. This moment I likened to when you have family over and you are all chatting and having a good time, and then you suddenly feel drowsy while the stories are only getting better and better so your head keeps dipping as you dose off on the couch pulling you right up to pick up where you last left the conversation.
Most of the stories are based in Limpopo but she does take us on a journey to Zimbabwe and Johannesburg. It doesn’t matter where she takes us, it only matters how she takes us and plonks us there. She made me see life through a young Afrikaner boy in Monkeys. Nicolas is a loving boy in a dysfunctional family while questioning his sexuality and you can’t help but relate to some of his struggles.
In Madness Mopai tells the story of every township and how it deals with mental illness. The story pulled my mind all those years back growing up in the Soweto, and how we either ignored people who were struggling with mental illness or called them names. The idea that what they were going through could be managed was never a thought; instead, we fell into calling it witchcraft and rested on our inability to do something about it. I hope, as a collective, we know better now.
Growing Caterpillars, left me questioning what I would do in Keke’s shoes but Mopai has such compassion for her characters that I left that story full of compassion for this couple. There is no wrong or right in the situation they find themselves in, just life, I guess.
Letty left my jaw on the floor, I did not see that coming! I feel I could go on and on about all the stories in the collection but, I may end up giving them all up because it is hard to restrain myself once I get going. If You Keep Digging will break your heart and embolden you to pick up a cause that you want to fix or attempt to while you walk and breathe on this earth. The book will also knit you back together, like the story Skinned did for me. And then it will tear you apart again in the final story Blood of Filth more accurately, it will leave you conflicted. Mopai leaves you conflicted in most of her stories in the collection because her characters are allowed to tell their stories. The characters are human beings who are given the chance to tell the reader their side of the story and what you remember, or at least what I remembered, is: we are all imperfectly perfect. We all have stories to tell, we are all doing the best we can with the cards we have been dealt.
Ultimately, If You Keep Digging has brought perspective to life, it has reminded me that we are all in this together and I believe these stories can help craft the society we ought to live in. Mopai has given us a glimpse of almost every struggle that plagues Africans, she introduces you to different people and reveals to you that we aren’t all so different after all.
If it is not clear at this point that I adore this book and I am not interested in questioning my bias then maybe the fact that If You Keep Digging is now firmly nestled between Sula by Toni Morrison and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on my bookshelf, should tip you over?
Mopai must keep writing so we can keep digging! Her stories will leave you a better human than they found you…