cover image Tales of the Metric System

Tales of the Metric System

Imraan Coovadia. Ohio Univ., $18.95 trade paper (394p) ISBN 978-0-8214-2226-7

Coorvadia's novel gives readers an on-the-ground view of how South Africa functioned under apartheid. Over 10 chapters and 40 years%E2%80%94from 1970 through the end of apartheid, the election of Nelson Mandela, and the 2010 World Cup%E2%80%94multiple narrators provide varying perspectives. Each chapter showcases a short period of time, from a few hours to a day, in a character's life. A wealthy white woman needs the help of her neighbor's black servant to get her car started. Victor Moloi awakens to find his identification papers missing, which was cause for arrest in 1973. Sanjay Naidoo stays with his rich uncle at a Johannesburg resort, where they are one of the few non-white families. The collected stories structure recalls David Mitchell's Ghostwritten, or Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad. As a character says early on, "We get most of our energy from complications." These complications rapidly pile up, resulting in a layered, multifaceted narrative. Overarching threads include the AIDS crisis and government corruption. Throughout, readers are reminded that "everything would count and nothing would be measured." The small moments captured by Coovadia are snapshots of South Africa's cultural change. (Apr.)