Citizen Book Prize Shortlist: Onion Tears by Shubnum Khan
THIS is the seventh of nine synopses of books eligible for the Citizen Book Prize.
The winner will be determined by readers’ votes. To help get your favourite manuscript published, vote and make your mark (see the voting box below the synopsis).
Voting for each synopsis will be open for the week following its publication in CitiVibe. If you miss that, you will be able to reread and vote for all nine synopses online from November 5 – 11.
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This is the only book prize for unpublished authors chosen by the reading public.
The Citizen Book Prize synopsis seven
by Shubnum Khan
‘Listen my child. In life you’re either a ripe mango or a raw onion. Ripe mangoes are perfect; they’re sweet and juicy and everybody likes them. Raw onions? They’re good for nothing. Nobody wants to eat them. They have funny, funny ways and they don’t do nothing right. Now tell me; you want to be a ripe mango or a raw onion? Of course you want to be a ripe mango. Everybody wants to be a ripe mango.’
Onion Tears is a tale of three generations of Indian Muslim women living in suburban South Africa. Khadeejah Bibi Ballim is a stubborn, hardworking, first-generation Indian who hates rice in her carpet. She longs for her beloved India and often questions what she is doing on the tip of Africa. She detests her daughter, adores her granddaughter and, after her husband’s failed coconut lamp experiment, sells pickles from her small house to make a living.
Her daughter Summaya is a morose thirty-seven year old struggling to reconcile her South African and Indian identities. Summaya works at a small travel agency, struggles to be a good mother and fiercely guards a secret from her past.
Her daughter, Aneesa is eleven years old. Stuck-in-the-middle-age, she is considered neither adult nor child. Her precocious nature leads her to believe that her mother is lying about her father, believing him not to be dead, which prompts her to undertake her own quest to discover the truth.
Pieces of each character’s past forge together to explain the present. Khadeejah’s history growing up as a child in the 60s in Bronkhorstspruit and later as a young wife to an unstable husband is revealed through intermittent flashbacks.
Summaya’s past as a headstrong girl and then loving young wife provides insights about the changes that she undergoes to eventually become her disappointed self. Summaya’s secret is gradually revealed while Aneesa makes her own startling discoveries.
Onion Tears intimately explores identity through the secrets that people keep; the words they swallow and the emotions they mute. Every person suffers something in their life and the novel asks: how much does a person change when faced with adversity? It concerns a young girl’s search for her father, but this is entwined with stories of how apartheid affected society, conflict of identity and tragedy which, never far off, is what eventually will either bring the family together or tear it apart.
Vote for Onion Tears by Shubnum Khan