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Precious Mavuso

I admit that Unathi Magubeni’s debut novel had me shivering with fear from the first page to the last. For a fairly short book, it is crammed with shockers and twists in the tale, themes of betrayal and murder, evil midwives and heroic herbalists.

It is unlike anything I have read before, teetering as it does between the dark side of traditional belief and the light.

Nwelezelanga: The Star Child is written in a poetic style, nudging the reader to push beyond the bounds of their imagination.

I felt as if I knew the characters and had been to the places they find themselves in.

The story is told through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, named Nwelezelanga by the village herbalist. But she is no ordinary teenager.

“I’m 13 years old; however, that’s a distortion on its own. I’m young yet old; I’ve experienced the cycle of birth and death more times than I care to count. I’ve donned and shredded many skin colours in my lifetime,” she tells us.

She is also an albino, although the book is not just about albinism. That said, it does not shy away from delving into the dark world where people with albinism face mutilation and dismemberment.

After being born, the star child is tossed into the mighty Umfolozi River. But she survives to undergo a journey and realise her purpose.

The story’s overarching themes focus on the individual, our s ...

I admit that Unathi Magubeni’s debut novel had me shivering with fear from the first page to the last. For a fairly short book, it is crammed with shockers and twists in the tale, themes of betrayal and murder, evil midwives and heroic herbalists.

It is unlike anything I have read before, teetering as it does between the dark side of traditional belief and the light.

Nwelezelanga: The Star Child is written in a poetic style, nudging the reader to push beyond the bounds of their imagination.

I felt as if I knew the characters and had been to the places they find themselves in.

The story is told through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, named Nwelezelanga by the village herbalist. But she is no ordinary teenager.

“I’m 13 years old; however, that’s a distortion on its own. I’m young yet old; I’ve experienced the cycle of birth and death more times than I care to count. I’ve donned and shredded many skin colours in my lifetime,” she tells us.

She is also an albino, although the book is not just about albinism. That said, it does not shy away from delving into the dark world where people with albinism face mutilation and dismemberment.

After being born, the star child is tossed into the mighty Umfolozi River. But she survives to undergo a journey and realise her purpose.

The story’s overarching themes focus on the individual, our spiritual quests, love and the attainment of peace.

Despite Magubeni’s rich vocabulary, you will not need to reach for the dictionary. But be warned, the powerful ending may break your heart.

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