S.B.'s Reviews > Cion

Cion by Zakes Mda
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's review
Jan 03, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: multracial-whiteness, real-fiction

A Big Thumbs Down

This book, Cion, by Zakes Mda, is very hard to read especially in the beginning. It is a far-fetched, disconnected story that jumps all over the place. To top it off the main character, Toloki, is a professional mourner. It is full of vile sexual content and foul language. The book recieved great praise by a few descendants who claim to have read it. Did they not see the insult to their people, be it true or not?

I do feel that Mr. Mda captured the essence of the area, Kilvert, and "some" of the people as seen by outsiders. The people no matter whether black, brown, white, or some shade in between are all related. Mr. Mda's character, Toloki, doesn't understand this, being a true Black man from South Africia. He sees that the people are not all the same even tho they believe that they are, and that they cling to a long ago legend that they don't really know much about other than the oral history they present. He touches on the inner conflict, prejudice and pretense amongst some of these people, and in my opinion he is not totally wrong in that observation. Some of the people say they are colored or black, some are anything but black, some are Indian, Irish is a curse, white is a bad word. The solution to this is...call us WIN (White, Indian, Negro).

The people Mr. Mda came to befriend, as he calls it, and interview for his book gave him the impression of not knowing who they are. I can understand that thru Mda's broader scope of vision in the world and mainstream societies. It is true that they, the people, all have a different version of what their race is...sometimes even in the same family. He also captures the attitude that "some" have about living in poverty; blaming the outside world, or the past and not taking responsibility for themselves.

At any rate, Mr. Mda can call it fiction, but I could pick out many of the characters and stories he was writing about...Those he interviewed were obviously trusting of him, befriending him and praising him without even reading the book. It is a very insulting book. If you have people in the area, or come from the area you would feel something in your heart, no matter what your beliefs or understanding of the family history, no matter your racial self-identification. I felt truly saddened and nauseated at the way this man used these people to make fun of all of them and their stories in his book.

I'll just add the book to my collection because it mentions so many of our places and people, although with a very twisted and insulting version, yes he calls it fiction, but it is insulting, whether he meant it to be or not. Mr. Mda does not treat the subject with any respect or sensitivity, instead he seems to make fun of the history and the people of Kilvert. The Washington Post saw it that way (see below, read the definitions!). Mda's character Toloki comes off as the Black intellect amongst the mixed up, not so bright people of Kilvert. As much as an insult this is to many of the people in the area, and as sad and angry as it made me feel while reading the book, unfortunately if the shoe fits they'll have to wear it.

This Washington Post Review says it like it is:

"One of the most prolific black writers of post-apartheid South Africa, Zakes Mda, has now cast his roaming, wry (wry means marked by or displaying contemptuous mockery of the motives or virtues of others: cynic, cynical, ironic, ironical, sardonic) and satirical (satirical means contemptuous or ironic in manner or wit: derisive, jeering, mocking, sarcastic, satiric, scoffing, sneering) eye upon the United States, in particular the rural southeastern Ohio community outside of Athens, Ohio (where, incidentally, Mda teaches at Ohio University).

I give it a big thumbs down!


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