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Pan Macmillan

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“It’s an extraordinary story” – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Becoming Iman

Published in The Witness: 30 July 2018

For readers who only know Iman Rappetti as a warm, skilled and urbane presenter on television and radio, this memoir will come as something of a surprise.

We may think we know someone through their daily arrival into our space via the media, but in fact, we really know nothing about them other than that they are the one we like, or dislike.

Rappetti grew up in Phoenix, living with her Indian father and her Coloured mother, a combination that caused deep family rifts. She loved both her parents, though her father was violent and abusive to his wife until he became part of an Evangelical Christian church and apparently changed his ways.

And then there were her siblings.

Her eldest brother had been forcibly removed from her mother straight after his birth to live with his Indian grandmother, and there were another older brother and sister who suddenly arrived back to live with the family without explanation.

It was a complex, very South African childhood, taking place in the apartheid days where discovering your own identity was always going to be compromised and complicated.

But Rappetti tells her tale with humour, bringing to life aunties and their “School of Suffering” (SOS) which they raised to an art form. The writing is beautiful, with unexpected and memorable turns of phrase, while the telling of the story is episodic, linear in emotion rather than in time.

Once beyond the coming-of-age memoir stage, Rappetti’s life takes unexpected turns. From the evangelical Christianity of her upbringing, she converts to Islam, moves with her husband to Iran and becomes a veiled, submissive Muslim wife and mother as the reader begins to realise that whatever Rappetti does, she does wholeheartedly.

It’s an extraordinary story, and the frankness with which she relates her growing later disillusion with both her marriage and her faith is powerful and compelling. Now, she sees the Muslim veil as a symbol of oppression, but her journey into faith and on to rebellion is fascinating to follow, as are the swings in her story between the sacred and the profane.

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