cover image Welcome to Our Hillbrow

Welcome to Our Hillbrow

Phaswane Mpe. Ohio Univ., $16.95 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-0-8214-1962-5

First published in South Africa in 2001, this haunting novel from the late postapartheid intellectual Mpe (1970%E2%80%932004) ventures into South Africa's xenophobia and the devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic. The story takes the form of a eulogy by an anonymous narrator, addressed directly to its deceased subject, Refentse, revisiting the events leading up to his suicide. The first from rural Tiragalog to get a Master's in Arts and become a university lecturer, Refentse arrives in the rough-and-tumble Johannesburg suburb of Hillbrow and quickly becomes mired in a web of passion and betrayal among friends and lovers. Despite his stormy personal life, Refentse pursues "a mission to explore Hillbrow in writing" and decides he must forgo his native Sepedi language and write in English to reach a wider audience, a theme Refentse explores in a short story about a female author whose loyalty to her native tongue ensures the marginalization of her career and whose ambitions are eclipsed by her rapid deterioration caused by AIDS, a fate readers discover might have mirrored the fictional author's had he not taken his own life. Heavily influenced by oral storytelling traditions and yet fully engaged with the world it's set in, this is a powerful novel from a talent cut down unfortunately early. (May)