/ 5 December 2022

Romantic tale of forbidden love

In The Midst Of It All Thabile Shange
Mixed blessing: Thabile Shange’s novel deals with themes around love and relationships – especially the challenges which arise when the couple are of different nationalities – as well as family, friendships and identity.

In the Midst of It All is a romantic story which tracks the relationship of a South African-Nigerian couple. Author Thabile Shange takes us on the love journey of two people from different backgrounds — Nandi, who is Zulu, and Femi, who is proudly Yoruba. 

Their love story is unlike others. Faced with many trials and tribulations, the couple work and fight for their love in difficult times. 

In the Midst of It All is set in Durban and starts with an introduction to Nandi. We meet her as a young journalism student, who is inquisitive, extroverted and outspoken. 

We get to understand her family dynamics. Nandi lives with her father and sister, Thenjiwe, who is a lot like her in personality — loud and dramatic. We find out Nandi’s father is xenophobic and hates foreigners. This is because his son died of a drug overdose and he believes foreigners, especially Nigerians, were to blame.

The future is unknown and unpredictable but it’s unavoidable. An interview for a school assignment between Nandi and Femi turns out to be the beginning of a new chapter in both their lives. 

Nandi’s television production assignment entails making a video on “the effects of xenophobia on foreign-owned businesses” and she finds Femi to interview. 

Upon her arrival at Femi’s Auto Repair Garage, she is surprised by the warm welcome she receives from Femi, and his openness. 

Nandi initially thinks Femi is too good to be true. After all, her father has warned her about Nigerians being bad people because they were selling drugs and killing children.

To her surprise, Femi reverses her expectations. Besides being the epitome of a “tall, dark and handsome black man”, he is sweet, polite, laid back and kind. Above all, Femi is grounded and knows what he wants in life. Nandi instantly finds him attractive. 

Shange’s style of writing is fresh and the book is an easy read. It explores different themes related to love and romance, especially when the two people who fall in love are of different nationalities, as well as family, friendships and identity.

Family is one of the most important themes and Shange explores the dynamics in the families of both protagonists.

We don’t hear much about Femi’s family until he has to go back home to Nigeria to fix things with his father. He realises that, for his relationship with Nandi to progress, he needs to get through to his father. 

For Femi, family is everything. He is very close to his mother and respects his father immensely, despite their differences. 

Nandi’s father is one of the most important people in her life. Her parents separated and got a divorce when she and her sister were young. For many years, Nandi has feared  Bab’Nxumalo, her father. So, when her relationship with Femi starts, it is difficult for her to spend much time with him. 

However, her mother Adelaide is an understanding woman who’s always supportive of her daughter. 

This book also highlights identity as a theme. Nandi is proud of her culture, tradition and identity. She is a beautiful Zulu woman who doesn’t question much about her culture because she understands how things are. However, when Femi comes into the picture, she sees a lot of people around her act in ways that she never imagined she would experience. 

Her community is outraged by foreigners and wants nothing to do with them and Bab’ Nxumalo’s xenophobic attitude doesn’t make the situation better. She has to deal with people speaking badly about her and Femi’s relationship and speaking badly of them. 

In the Midst of It All is a page-turner. Being a lover of everything love and romance, I was excited to dive deep into page after page. 

Above all, I related to many aspects of the book. I was born and bred in a township that is no stranger to xenophobic attacks. I have witnessed the death of innocent foreigners. I often felt as if I was in the story itself.

In my community, issues that involved foreign nationals were often exaggerated in the worst possible way. We grew up hearing our elders address foreigners with derogatory names and belittling them. 

What Shange is able to do in this book is to shine a light on South Africa’s prejudice towards foreigners. She manages to paint a picture of how backward South Africans’ approach to them often is. 

Through Femi and his friend David, we are able to see two different types of foreigners, who approach situations differently. While Femi is the calm and laid-back one, and respects South Africans and their reasoning, David is the opposite. David is always ready for a fight, always ready to get back at those who try to hurt him.

The book also brought back nostalgic feelings about new love and new beginnings — the feeling of beautiful love; love that feels safe, that’s fun, easy and love that is forbidden. 

Growing up in my township, stories such as Femi’s and Nandi’s were not publicised but, over time, couples have become more comfortable and prouder of their relationships. 

In the Midst of It All is above all a love story. Through thick and thin, good, volatile and uncertain times, love can either stand the test of time or die down. The saying that “love alone is not enough” is true and it’s clear in Nandi and Femi’s love story. 

Ups and downs are always present where love is found. How the two parties work together to overcome them is what matters. 

For those seeking an interesting love story, or craving some romance in their lives, this book is just what you need. An uplifting, relatable, educational, funny and interesting love story is what you’re in for. 

In the Midst of It All by Thabile Shange is published by Kwela Books, R297.