In her third novel for adults (and the follow-up to this year’s novel for young adults, This Book Betrays My Brother), Kagiso Lesego Molope delivers a moving and poignant portrait of a South African man’s life as he struggles with coming out and consolidating his identity with the views of his community and family.
Kabelo Mosala is the repository of his parents’ aspirations. Indeed, his life has been predicated on the hopes and dreams of others. Following in the steps of his father, Kabelo is expected to practise medicine and have a traditional township wedding. However, Kabelo is gay and not open about his sexuality. He comes from a family that hides things well and habitually; the household he grows up in is paralyzed with secrets.
As he grows older, Kabelo begins to feel the emotional pressure that results from being secretive for so long. Lost and unable to find acceptance in himself or the outside world, Kabelo’s interior life becomes as much a prison to him as the world beyond it. A year before he leaves for medical school, Kabelo forms a close bond with his childhood friend, Sediba, and in doing so finds external validation for his sexuality. However, their bond is cut as soon as Kabelo moves to Cape Town.
Kabelo holds a level of idealism regarding the city as his only means of escape. Once there, Kabelo for the first time experiences what it feels like to live freely and he immerses himself in Cape Town’s gay community. This interregnum is short-lived, however, and as chaos brews Kabelo moves to Durban, where he runs into Sediba. This unexpected encounter ignites a deep and meaningful romance. Sediba counters Kabelo’s innate desire to suppress his sexuality, pushing him to face his deepest fears.
Molope’s novel is visceral yet quiet. Her work is heartbreakingly beautiful and will resonate with any reader who has grappled with identity issues. The most arresting points in Molope’s book occur when she pulls seemingly disparate details together, interpolating memory and the present. In the midst of a difficult conversation with his mother about his sexuality, the scent of a lemon tree through an open window transports Kabelo into a loving memory of being in Sediba’s arms. Molope weaves a story so rich with action and arresting details that it almost doesn’t feel like fiction. At a moment in which representation has become an important linchpin of literary conversation, Molope’s tale tackles themes of racism, sexuality, and otherness without resorting to flat characterization, obvious plotting, or didactic moralism. A powerful novel, Such a Lonely, Lovely Road is evocative and absorbing.
Correction: The character Sediba’s name was misprinted as “Sebelo” in an earlier version of this review. Q&Q regrets the error.