In South Africa, the controversial topic of botched traditional circumcisions has been very much in the news of late. A Man Who Is Not A Man recounts the personal trauma of a young Xhosa initiate after a rite-of-passage circumcision has gone wrong. With frankness and courage, author Thando Mgqolozana's powerful novel details the pain and lifelong shame that is experienced as a result of not just the physical trauma, but the social ostracism of being labeled 'a failed man.' He decodes the values and mysteries of this deep-seated cultural tradition and calls to account the elders for the disintegrating support systems that allow such tragic outcomes to happen. But it is also through this life-changing experience that his protagonist is forced to find his strength and humanity, and reassess what it really means to be a man.
Before I go into a full review of this book can I just talk about the first chapter of ‘A man who is not man.’ GEEZ!!! From the very first paragraph you are sucked in.
It begins like this: –
“This story is about how I came to have an abnormal penis. So, there you have it: my genitalia is not the normal type. By that I mean it hasn’t got the distinctive lollipop shape with a knobbly head that most men boast of.”
Look, I read that and my head immediately exploded. Like who begins a book like this! I just love how that line was delivered so matter-of-factly. It was a genius move because instinctively a reader wants to know more.
A man who is not a man is an intimate look at the Xhosa custom of male circumcision. We get to experience the emotional, spiritual and social toll circumcision has on young men when things go sideways.
We see a young man’s journey to manhood through the eyes of Lumkile as he returns to his ancestral village for his rite of passage. But the true test of his character comes when society and his elders woefully fail him. I really felt for Lumkile, the worst part was the ridicule he had to go through for a botched circumcision that wasn’t his fault to begin with.
I had so many questions after I finished reading this book. Firstly, why all of this needless pain and suffering to prove that you are a man? Why do you even need to prove that you are a man in the first place, I mean you already have the instrument, isn’t that enough for you? Plus, why does society put so much pressure on men to fit into this stereotypical idea of what a man should be, like Why. Sigh!! It’s so toxic and unnecessary.
Needlessly to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I think you guys will enjoy it too.
About the Author of A Man who is not a Man
Thando Mgqolozana (born August 27, 1983, Cape Town) is a South African novelist. His novels include Hear Me Alone (2011), and Unimportance (2014). He was selected as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans (2016) and a Mandela Rhodes Scholar (2006). Hias is the co-writer of Inxeba (The Wound) (2017), an Oscar-shortlisted, record breaking film. He is the founder of Abantu Book Festival, a hallmark annual literary event staged in Soweto.