Book Review: Tsotsi by Athol Fugard

TsotsiTsotsi by Athol Fugard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Athol Fugard has captured the true essence of disenfranchised criminal African youth in the townships of South Africa during the Apartheid era. The descriptions of the daily life of Tsotsi, the leader of a small criminal gang and his compatriots is, in many ways, similar to Steinbeck’s “Tortilla Flat.” It is also similar to the stories of the “Garri Boys” of West African cities; Young men who lost their tribal customs and values when they were abandoned in or migrated to the cities. The book also reminds this writer of Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.”

The members of the gang under Tsotsi’s leadership act as his conscience, planners, and executors of daily robberies and murders in the African township. There is no conscience involved in the acts, only the necessity of doing them on a daily basis in order to perpetuate the flow of money needed for food and drink. In robbing and murdering the members of their own township, the gang members revel in seeking out the weak, less fortunate or unsuspecting members of their own kind. In so doing, the gang helps perpetuate their own miserable lifestyle. Instead of directing this anger towards their white oppressors, the gang, by its violence, gives the white population its justification for continuing the oppression of Apartheid. The lack of any social conscience in Tsotsi, and the shutting out of his own memories of family and feelings for others leads to a crisis within the gang that changes everything.

In one violent outburst, Tsotsi vents his anger on the most educated and likable member of his gang. When he realizes what he has done, a twinkle of conscience creeps into Tsotsi’s mind and keeps popping up despite all his efforts to push it back into a comfortable corner of his brain and ignore it. With this awakening comes a desire to seek out any remnants of his earlier life prior to running away and joining a gang. He begins a quest to reestablish contact with his past. In a cascade of new conscience driven actions, Tsotsi adopts an abandoned child, finds that he has taken on responsibility and pays the price for caring about other human beings.

A chapter a night is enough to cogitate on with this book. Read it slowly and think about how it relates to our lives today.

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