Book Review: Coconut by Kopano Matlwa

Coconut is Kopano Matlwa’s debut novel published in 2007. The book is written in two parts focusing on two young black women who have grown up in a modern South Africa and experiencing life in two different worlds.

Through depicting these two women’s lives, “Coconut” addresses the aftermath of apartheid and how challenging it can be for young black people to find a sense of identity and remain cultured.

In this book we follow the life of Ofilwe, a rich and privileged young black South African who grows up in a white suburb in Johannesburg. A comfortable life is all she knows and her sense of identity is built around the white people she grew up surrounded by. She finds herself at a shock of reality when she experiences racism at school and loses a sense of belonging in her world.

On the other hand there is a confident, sassy and ambitious Fikile. Growing up in a black township with little opportunity, Fikile works at a restaurant and dreams of a comfortable and sophisticated life she has observed while serving privileged black and white customers.

She finds herself confronted with the complicated life that Johannesburg has to offer when reality hits and life is not all what she expected. The two stories give an illustration and insight of young people living in the new South Africa and how history continues to shape and influence the lives of young people in South Africa.

This book is written in a narrative and descriptive manner. There is no need to consult a dictionary when reading this book, Matlwa uses simple diction and accessible language making it easy for persons of any age and reading background to grasp the theme and content of the book. It appeals to all different kinds of audiences.

I enjoyed how the writer made a shift between the two characters in telling their stories. At some point in the book, these characters are in the same place having complete different views about the others’ character. The writer does beautifully in illustrating how one can never truly judge a book by its cover.

There is very little to dislike about the book, however the ending of the book was a bit premature. Although it leaves the reader yearning for more which I believe that’s what the writer was hoping to achieve, I would have liked the ending to be much further in the book.

I also did not like how Fikile’s character was portrayed in some aspects. She is often made to despise her identity by looking down on black people through refusing to interact with them in public transport on her way to and from work. I certainly do not believe that this is the manner in which racism has shaped young black people.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the lives of young South Africans and how the history has shaped and divided people’s views.

This book is also great for social book clubs of university students who come from different backgrounds and culture. It is enchanting and illustrated the issues faced by young black South Africans post-apartheid.

Out of ten, I rate Coconut 8, taking away two points for the unexpected ending and the description of Fikile self-hate character.

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