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3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,154 ratings  ·  106 reviews
An orphaned Masarwa girl comes to Dilepe to teach, only to discover that in this remote Botswana village her people are treated as outcasts. In the love story and intrigue that follow, the author's exploration of racism draws upon her own experiences of growing up in South Africa. ...more
Paperback, 127 pages
Published January 23rd 1997 by Heinemann Educational Books (first published January 1st 1971)
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This year I am participating in a women of color reading challenge, which has allowed me to read books by female authors from around the world. Recommended to me was Bessie Head, one of Africa's leading women authors. In her novella Maru first published in 1971, Head writes about the classism, racism, and sexism that exist in Botswana. Using the story of a Masarwa teacher to tell her tale, Head shows her readers the hierarchy of life in the tribal village of Dilepe.

With her mother's passing at h
Oct 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bechdel-pass
How can I get past what disturbs me so deeply about this novel, Maru’s manipulation and domination of the woman he falls in love with? I hear Helen Oyeyemi, who writes about the emotional range of the people Bessie Head writes, and I also value the way she draws the subtleties of relationships; the mixtures of envy and attraction and tenderness and ease that tug or sever the bonds between folks.

There are many things I love here; the way racism manifests, is an attribute of the envious, an attrib
Jul 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Maru is a novella by Bessie Head, who was one of Africa's greatest female writers. This novella packs in a lot of themes in 123 pages: racism, class-ism, male and female relationships, oppression, friendship, rivalry, jealousy, spirituality, love, and confusion. Maru revolves around a love square, not a triangle, of two men and two women. The two men are Maru and Moleka who have grown up like brothers, and who are inseparable. Maru is slated to be the next chief of his tribe. The two women are M ...more
Raul Bimenyimana
I'm always fascinated with small books, by small I mean volume, that contain so much in them and Maru is one such book.

Maru, set in rural Botswana, is the tale of an orphaned girl Margaret, who belonging to the Masarwa tribe, a tribe mistreated, enslaved and considered subhuman, experiences life, love and art even at the face of discrimination.

There's a quote from the book that really struck home:
"How universal was the language of oppression! They had said of the Masarwa what every white man ha
He liked his own dreams and visions. They created an atmosphere where not only he but all humanity could evolve. They stretched across every barrier and taboo and lovingly embraced the impossible. There was no such thing as a slave or any man as an object of pity. But while he looked ahead to such a world, he was no fool. The vicious, selfish, the cruel--those too he saw, and their capacity for creating misery. Where he could, he nailed them to the ground, but always alertly with no intention
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
What a strange novella. Skillful in many areas, but dominated by a bizarre and manipulative non-romance – I’m not sure what to think, or what the author was trying to do. None of the positive reviews I’ve read address the problems with it, so if you have some insight, please do share.

This review will be full of SPOILERS, because the book is only 127 pages long and so nearly everything is a spoiler, and also to fully explain my confusion. But the story begins at the end, so it isn’t exactly a su
Diane Brown
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"It is preferable to change the world on the basis of love of mankind. But if that quality be too rare, then common sense seems the next best thing" - Head

Great writing and insight from Bessie Head. I really loved this book. An insightful look into character, the folly of prejudice and that elusive virtue -- patience! A story from Botswana focusing on the "untouchables"

"Some time ago it might have been believed that words like 'kaffir' and 'nigger' defined a tribe. Or else how can a tribe of pe
Ben Winch
They knew nothing about the standards of the soul, and since Maru only lived by those standards they had never been able to make a place for him in their society.

I’m not sure about this one. As I read, often with great effort not to understand the words but to grasp their significance, I came to feel that something essential might be missing. On the surface a terse, taught, simply-told story of 100-odd pages, Maru, for all I know, may well have begun as a 300-page tangled wordy epic, before meet
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novella
Maru is subdued violence. Its subtle brutality. Its casually cruel. Its a love story, that starts like any other - a boy seeing a girl and the girl liking the boy. Only the girl here is of San heritage (Bushman), the ones that are oppressed for generations. Bessie Head uses Marsarwa, a derogatory term, that the characters use to address the protagonist, Margaret. She uses the word not to shy away from the impact it has had on the culture and the acts of racism that existed for a very long time. ...more
And if the white man thought Africans were a low, filthy nation, Africans in Southern Africa could still smile--at least, they were not Bushmen.

Published in 1971, this book is about racism and slavery; the enslavement of the Masarwa, or Bushmen. When a teacher tries an experiment and raises a bright "Bushy" baby girl who gets straight A's through teacher's college, her foster daughter, named Margaret after herself, grows up taunted and bullied by her Batswana classmates. Margaret could pass for
Jerome Kuseh
Mar 14, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african
Bessie Head tells the story of a woman (Margaret) of the San ethnicity (Masarwa is now pejorative) whose brilliance leads to a conflict between two Batswana princes over her affection and leads the way for the redemption of her people.

The book draws a parallel between white on black racism and the black on black ethnocentrism.

What I find unsettling about this story is that Margaret does not have a say in which man she prefers, she is not a typical San (having been raised by a white woman) and i
Madolyn Chukwu
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it

Why would TWO obviously very powerful men in one society go after a woman supposed to be an 'outcast" ? Why would they pull out all the stops to have her? .This is the situation we are confronted with here. Men are almost always attracted to physical attributes of women, but the lady in question, Margaret is not really described as a beauty or very desirable, though she is rather educated. I think the author should have given us strong reasons why two such important men would desire a woman most
3 stars for interesting characters and cultural insight. The author explored religion and superstition, prejudice, sexism and even astrology. Unfortunately, I didn't love the book's flow. One moment I'd find myself totally immersed in the story, and then it would get non-sensical and hard to follow. Maybe it's just the type of book I need to re-read. ...more
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
It's not good to wear your heart on your sleeve. You also wipe your nose there. ...more
There were lovely elements to this book and I would read another by this author, but I am afraid the more I’ve tried to figure out what I missed that inspired great reviews from others, the more I really do not like the story or how it was portrayed. (view spoiler) ...more
Feb 24, 2009 rated it liked it
This tiny book deals with some heavy themes right off the bat. Colonization, race, and discrimination are all themes that underline much of this book. However, Maru is really just a mildly complex, love story in the most familiar way. A love triangle involving four people (love rectangle?) from various social statures fall for each other despite the taboos involved. Emotions fly. Friendships are severed. A kingdom is threatened. Almost Shakespearean, right?

While Head is an excellent writer, many
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reading_africa
Racism is flourishing in Botswana; between both races and tribes - and the lowest of the low is the Masarwa (in itself a derogatory term) - the bushmen. And in the small village of Dilepe people get upset when the new teacher with the perfect grades, Margaret Cadmore, show up and proclaim that she is Masarwa, not colored (meaning the daughter of a white man and a black mother). And she acts strange as she raised in English style by a white missionary, plagued by the other children for being Masa ...more
Jun 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I love this book and have reread it several times. Bessie Head is able to capture a truly African experience, with the attachment to the land, and provide a spiritual experience. The solitary experience of Margaret, the protagonist, is eloquent and poignant, yet joyful. Reading this book is a spiritual experience not limited to the book's African feel. Bessie Head provides a detailed observation of human nature and celebrates the ordinary. Bessie Head said, "With all my South African experience, ...more
Dora Okeyo
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Reading Maru is traveling beyond the world of prejudice to acceptance.

Story: Margaret is a Masarwa (an outcast) but she was taken in by a white woman-also named Margaret who gave her the best education with the hope that her life might be better. Years on, she's a primary school teacher- all the children call her a 'bush baby' because they know she is an outcast, and she has a great friend Dikeledi. Then there's Maru who knows that Margaret loves Moleka, but sacrifices his friendship with Moleka
Jan 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: home-library
Margaret Cadmore is a Marsawa/Bushman and considered human garbage by other Africans. At the same time, most colonists believe most Africans sub-human.

Maru -for whom the novel is named- is a man held in high esteem by the village of Dilepi for his insight into all things. He is the village Administrator.

Mokola is a well to do women user and village administrator. He is Maru's best friend.

Dikeledi is a teacher at the primary school. She is Maru's sister.

When Margaret takes a job as a primary
Dec 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa, fiction, botswana
Margaret Cadmore readily acknowledges her bushman heritage. She arrives in the rural town of Dilepe to teach and causes almost instant turmoil because she's Masarwa. While another teacher, Dikeledi is very nice to her, there are others who are pushing for her ousting. On top of this is a complicated love quadrangle and the provincial chief (Maru) who finds ways to get what he wants.
A short read - only 128 pages - yet something that would benefit from a second reading. There's a lot going on he
Apr 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant novella by Bessie Head, portraying how the arrival of an unassuming female San/Basarwa (Kalahari Bushman) teacher wreaks havoc in a Botswana village by stirring up racism and hatred among students and teachers, destroying friendships, and breaking hearts. So short, and yet so complex and unsettling. A book to read, ponder and re-read.
Jul 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I love love love this quick read. It's a little over a hundred pages and I was amazed at how much was said and how many layers could be uncovered in so few pages. ...more
Jenny Wagner
The insight and understanding of human nature that Bessie Head possesses is marvellous. Her writing is fabulously descriptive.
Madiba Mashao
Jul 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the most interesting book I've read. ...more
Black Rose Book Affair
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
In this book Bessie Head, took the narrative of Apartheid South Africa, where African people were oppressed by the Afrikaner government. She plots this narrative in Botswana where the Bushmen are oppressed by the Batswana people. Regarding them as "Half-man, half-animal" and thought to be a people "Who cannot think for themselves", therefore enslaved by Batswana (Botswana People).

Bessie, explores Power, Prejudice and Love. She carries the three themes throughout the book, without forsaking one
Dec 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Maru is an fascinating story about exclusion and dehumanizing minorities, as the "Masarwa" in Botswana. It is a compelling novel, linking magic, love and power.

The novel starts where the story ends and the first part of the book is difficult to grasp: I had to reread it after finishing the novel. In the same time, these first pages reveal how the events will play out, which takes away some of the build up tension further on where the narrator insinuates that people might get murdered.

As in her o
Nthabi Reads?
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This masterpiece was a prescribed book for my matric (senior) year and I must say that it reads beautifully. Bessie had a gift and it saddens me that the book has been phased out of the S.African curriculum today.
Book Wormy
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2017
I really enjoyed this beautifully written novella about the effect of 1 woman on a whole community.

Margaret was born to a Masarwa woman who died shortly after giving birth she was then raised by a white woman missionary who named her after herself and made sure she was educated to the highest standards. When the missionary is called back to England she leaves Margaret to fend for herself as a teacher in a remote village.

Margaret comes as a shock to the villages as she freely admits to being a Ma
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unlike many African novelists of her generation, Bessie Head, a South African-born colored writer, writes about intra-African discrimination and oppression, in this book the oppression of the San people by the Motswana people of Botswana. The "problem" at the heart of this story is Margaret Cadmore, a San orphan, raised and educated by an English missionary woman, who becomes a schoolteacher in a Motswana village. At the heart of the story is a rivalry between two men, but even more important is ...more
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Play Book Tag: Maru by Bessie Head (South African author) 3 stars 1 14 Jul 24, 2018 10:43AM  

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Bessie Emery Head (6 July 1937 – 17 April 1986), though born in South Africa, is usually considered Botswana's most influential writer.

Bessie Emery Head was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the child of a wealthy white South African woman and a black servant when interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa. It was claimed that her mother was mentally ill so that she could be sent

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