Book Review: The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo by Peter Orner

Cincinnati native Larry Kaplanski couldn’t know what he was in for when he volunteered to teach at a tiny church run school in the remote reaches of Namibia. How can one truly know the heat, drought and utter isolation that come with taking a position in such a place? Goas was a tiny community onto itself, grinding along day by day as the male teachers struggled to get their lessons through to the boys.

Enter Mavala Shikongo, she wasn’t just a savvy young woman, having fought during Namibia’s war for independence, she was also a combat veteran and most of all, a breath of fresh air. All the teachers eventually surcome to her lure and fall, if not in love then certainly in lust with her. When she disappears shortly after taking up a teaching post, no one was the least bit surprised; she had been out in the great world beyond the veld and knew what treasures lay beyond the borders of their little community. It was her return that caused a stir, especially when she came with a toddler in tow. For an unmarried young woman to have a child was bad enough but to bring him to her teaching position at a Catholic run school was next to sacrilegious.

Mavala and Larry wind up sharing their siesta time together at the cemetery, sometimes simply talking, sometimes thumping like the poor beasts around them and through it all, Mavala remains a mystery. She says nothing about the father of her boy, a calculating tyke Larry secretly calls “the Monster” and little about her time in service. One day she informs Larry that she is leaving her son in the care of her sister who is the school principle’s wife. At one time Mavala thought maybe things could work out for her at the school with her sister but Antoinette proves too judgmental going so far as to bar Mavala from cooking in the kitchen, apparently sluts don’t need to cook or eat. When the teachers discover she has left once again they are certain she will never return to Goas, it is for the best that way.

This is an unusual read in that it encapsulates the events of daily life in much the same way an instamatic camera catches simple yet telling snapshots of the moment. Often the story moves forward by focusing on the day-to-day routine and the mundane grind of eking out an existence in a harsh, forgotten corner of the world more then the momentous. One can almost feel the dry, oppressive heat and the gritty sand underfoot in this telling vision of adaptation and the transitory nature of life and matters of the heart.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.

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