Singing Away the Hunger: The Autobiography of an African Woman

Mpho 'M'atsepo Nthunya, Author, K. Limakatso Kendall, Editor, Ellen Kuzwayo, Foreword by Indiana University Press $35 (200p) ISBN 978-0-253-33352-0
Kendall, a U.S.-born writer and performance artist, was on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Natal when she met Nthunya, a domestic worker who was supporting 11 people on her salary. Theirs became a fast friendship. Nthunya was convinced that Kendall was a gift sent by her dead mother, giving her new friend the name limakatso, which means ""someone who brings miracles."" Together they worked to get Nthunya's story out, with Nthunya speaking and Kendall facilitating. Originally published in South Africa in 1996, the result is a stunning autobiography of a remarkable woman. Nthunya is a Lesotho elder, a survivor, a storyteller, a self-possessed caretaker and family leader. Nthunya's model throughout is her mother, who taught her to ""sing away the hunger"" and insisted that she take advantage of a free Catholic grade-school education, which left Nthunya with the ability to read and speak eight languages among other talents. Life for African women often seems insupportable, yet they live it every day: starvation and illness are constant; children die, sometimes in adulthood; employment is scarce and menial; husbands can be brutal or absent; jealousy bred of poverty separates fenceless neighbors. These elements of life are balanced by the joys of friendship, family and the breathtaking beauty of the African landscape. This is a rare work, reflecting the life of a contemporary working-class African woman who is neither wholly uneducated, nor is she a college-trained revolutionary or union radical. But most of all Nthunya's telling is eloquent. Although her voice is generally one of dignified emotional distance, it is punctuated by her very human humor and pain. Photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Paperback - 186 pages - 978-0-86980-932-7
Paperback - 200 pages - 978-0-253-21162-0
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