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Ufrieda Ho’s Paper Sons and Daughters Launched at the Origins Centre in Johannesburg

Ufrieda Ho

Paper Sons and DaughtersThe Origins Centre in Johannesburg was an appropriate venue for the launch of Ufrieda Ho’s memoir, Paper Sons and Daughters. The centre that traces the ancestry of mankind was where Ho mapped her own history as a Chinese woman growing up in apartheid South Africa. The intimate venue was packed to capacity with friends, family and enthusiastic readers who socialised ebulliently – over mountains of fine Chinese food.

Ufrieda Ho, in conversation with Sunday Independent books editor Maureen Isaacson, explained how her childhood was marked by its difference to other South African children, because as a Chinese person in apartheid South Africa, she was classified as “honorary white”, falling in the no-man’s land between black and white.

Isaacson remarked on the lack of guile in Ho’s memoir, at the honesty prevalent throughout the book. Ho, in her modest manner, reflected that it was not she that is the author of the book, but the spirits who congregated with her and her cats as she recorded the memoir on her laptop.

The original South African-Chinese community, whose current population apparently stands at about ten thousand, were migrants from mainland China. Ho’s father emigrated to South Africa in the 1950s to escape a life of poverty – a parallel that a mindful Ho was careful to draw with current Chinese immigrants to South Africa.

The “paper” in the title of Ho’s book refers to two aspects of her family’s history: her parents emigrated to South Africa with false papers; and the ancient gambling game of fahfee, in which punters interpret their dreams, ascribe a number to it and write their numbers on small bits of paper, featured prominently in her childhood. Without skills and a full education, Ho’s father played fahfee to provide for his family. It is an illegal game that eventually cost Ho’s father his life – and his death remains unsolved.

Ho weaves the tapestry of her rich Chinese-South African heritage via a retelling that captures the humour, pragmatism and sensitivity that are trademarks of her personality.

At the launch, she delivered a delightfully expressive recap of the hiatus she found herself in, trying to straddle two cultures, wedged between, for example, the traditional slaughter of rabbits she’d named after characters from a book, and pasting posters of Johnny Depp, her teenage idol, on her walls.

“’Paper Sons and Daughters’ gives voice to the people in my life,” sadi Ho.

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