Book Review: Born Freeloaders by Phumlani Pikoli

2020-02-02 00:00

Born Freeloaders by Phumlani Pikoli sees the writer return with his second book and it is well worth a read and #Trending is ecstatic about the project and hope it will be developed for a different medium. 

Born Freeloaders by Phumlani Pikoli

Pan Macmillan

Pages: 197

Price: R277


His second novel sees the handle Phumlani Pikoli has on the English language tighten.

After an itchy beginning, we are acquainted with two siblings: Nthabiseng, an popular 18-year-old girl attending a model C school, and 20-year-old Xolani who is the frontman of an indie rock group called the Cursed Children of Ham.

It is from these characters that a simple and yet visceral story surfaces.

His story makes use of a non-circular delivery and offers snapshots of the lives lived by these youngsters who were born into a family with political ties.

Xolani is a right-brained young man dealing with life in the limelight and navigating his relationship with Bell, a white girl from the burbs.

Pikoli jumps between 2012 and the past in which the pair of siblings are still young and experiencing things for the first time.

Each hop between phases in time makes perfect sense when the two story paths eventually converge.

As a young boy, Xolani struggles to deal with the passing of his father and latches on to an uncle who looks like his dad. This is his attempt to fill a void he was initially refusing to accept.

Nthabiseng is an it-girl at school, whose brother’s fame fuels the popularity.

She doesn’t shy away from picking up the mantle by being the girl who tells others to stop running on the stairs, and uses her powers as a senior in what is portrayed as an authoritative manner.

In this book, Pikoli perfectly transports you to the high school yard, the pettiness that sometimes governs this space and how young women relate to each other in a way that demonstrates an intimate experience with the schoolyard.

The pleasant comments in person but devious inner thoughts are like a comical secret that only the reader knows, especially as seen in interactions between Nthabiseng and a former friend of hers, Priscilla.

The novel is heavy on dialogue, but Pikoli’s attention to detail is pedantic.

The author will do something as simple as suggesting that someone speaks in a heavy Afrikaans accent, and you can almost hear the accent in the words used. His use of the various South African languages is mesmerising.

From Afrikaans to Zulu, Sotho, Tsotsitaal; and he goes as far as incorporating the colloquial shorthand we use when texting.

The layout of those pages is changed to look like the screen of a smartphone to get this across.

At one stage Pikoli even flexes his journalistic skills by including a review of Xolani’s band’s lead single.

A Donald Sterling writes the article, and shreds Xolani’s band for being a collective that fuses black strokes with white privilege.

The author explores the layout of our cities in a way that distinguishes those who can best access space in such a carefree way, exploring concepts of freedom, privilege and space through an engaging storytelling form, not the usual pompous approach of academic writers.

His fascination with the city, as seen through the eyes of a youthful soul, is gracefully portrayed.

The futility of youth is held up to the light, a scorching yet entertaining reminder of how far we still have to go to realise a society once dreamt about by great minds.

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March 29 2020