Maverick Life

BOOK REVIEW

‘Things My Mother Left Me’ seeks to dismantle generational trauma experienced by black women

‘Things My Mother Left Me’ seeks to dismantle generational trauma experienced by black women
Pulane Mlilo Mpondo's debut book of short stories ‘Things My Mother Left Me’. (Photo: Supplied)

‘Things My Mother Left Me’ is a collection of short stories that explore the lives of women who encounter the abrasive effects of systemic flaws, broken homes, and existing in a patriarchal society while carrying unresolved generational trauma. 

Pulane Mlilo Mpondo started off as a poet, writing poetry inspired by African-American singers Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, who, in addition to writing about romance and personal growth, also explore themes of African heritage and the experiences of black communities, particularly in the US.

The 34-year-old Mpondo’s debut offering, Things My Mother Left Me, an anthology of six interconnected short stories, seeks to dismantle and then restructure popular perceptions of African women. Mpondo plays around with literature and makes use of metaphors to deliver vivid visuals, energy and sounds that emotionally capture the reader to better understand the beauty, desperation and the emotional rollercoaster her characters are on.

She writes: “I hear them climb onto my roof, the men, they have given up all negotiations with the door. But the roof is no good either, it’s too hot up there, the corrugated iron that covers my home as quick to gather and boast of the heat. That iron roof makes life uncomfortable, it bakes and heaves with the heat, playing musical chairs, making us unwelcome visitors in our own home. That roof is cruel, and now it is burning the soles of the men who are trying to save our lives”.

Mpondo attributes her remarkable ability to paint a picture in the reader’s mind and take over their emotional state to her own curiosity about the details and minutiae of other people’s stories, whether it be her helper or conversations in a taxi. Says Mpondo: “I have always loved a good story. I will always ask someone to share a good story with me. I would hear these really interesting stories that the women in my life or the women I encounter share, like my helper. I love taxis, I haven’t taken a taxi in a while but I used to enjoy the taxi because of the kind of storytelling that would happen there.”

The mother of three tells Daily Maverick that she needs no special routine to activate her enchanted pen, but a bottle of wine and a quiet night where the stories narrate themselves.  

“There’s something about writing at night. It feels like the stories tell themselves and when it’s dead quiet, the house is still and I have a bottle of wine, I sit and I wait and then it happens. I don’t practice a particular ritual to evoke the creativity. I find myself in an environment or in the company of people that reflect the stories that I’m writing,” says Mpondo.

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The six short stories that make up the anthology are divided into chapters that bleed into each other, to tell the stories of women who have become victims of a misogynistic and patriarchal world, where men thrive off of women’s pain and sufferings. In the same breath, Mpondo celebrates the sisterhood between women in desperate positions.

In the opening chapter, Mpondo captures the reader’s attention with a sadly familiar story of an abusive marriage. In this case, the husband intentionally lights a house on fire with his wife and children trapped inside with hopes of killing them. Mpondo digs further into the roots of the misogynistic and vicious treatment of women, with a particular focus on one-sided marriages in black communities, where love is not reciprocated.

She goes on to introduce supernatural themes such as black magic and soul sacrifices. She borrows the biblical snake from the Garden of Eden to represent a villain that feeds on the heels of the women in these stories, with the aim of engaging the supernatural aspect of the stories with the tangible.

Still, amid the chaos, Mpondo allows for the romance of sisterhood to comfort a fellow woman and relieve her of her misery. 

“This is not a political book, it’s about the community of black girls and how they navigate and how they have forgotten what a powerful group of people they are especially when they get together,” explains Mpondo.

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Mpondo explains that although the representation of the struggles faced by black women is modelled in the book, the characters are also likely to represent people who might not be able to access the book due to systemic boundaries that limit access to literature for some communities. With this in mind, the author is exploring ways in which the stories can reach a broader audience.

“I am trying to find ways to make the book more accessible whether it be an audiovisual creation to get the message of the story going. I believe that the messaging of the story is so important,” she says. 

As she takes a break from writing, Mpondo has embarked on an interior design journey launching the décor range Khacube Home, which is inspired by the themes of her debut novel. She uses the images embedded in the book which she turns into wall rugs and cushions.

Mpondo hopes that every reader learns the truth about themselves after reading the book. 

“Everything of mine is about raising consciousness about how humans are more than their physical. There’s a whole legion of ancestors that you come from, that walk with you. Every choice you make impacts the generation that comes from you,” says Mpondo. DM

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