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Review: If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais

Title: If You Want to Make God Laugh

Author: Bianca Marais

Year Published: 2019

Category: Adult fiction (historical)
Pages: 448
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map) South Africa and Zaire (current day Democratic Republic of Congo)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In a squatter camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, seventeen-year-old Zodwa lives in desperate poverty, under the shadowy threat of a civil war and a growing AIDS epidemic. Eight months pregnant, Zodwa carefully guards secrets that jeopardize her life.

Across the country, wealthy socialite Ruth appears to have everything her heart desires, but it's what she can't have that leads to her breakdown. Meanwhile, in Zaire, a disgraced former nun, Delilah, grapples with a past that refuses to stay buried. When these personal crises send both middle-aged women back to their rural hometown to heal, the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby upends everything, challenging their lifelong beliefs about race, motherhood, and the power of the past.

As the mystery surrounding the infant grows, the complicated lives of Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah become inextricably linked. What follows is a mesmerizing look at family and identity that asks: How far will the human heart go to protect itself and the ones it loves?

Review: I enjoyed Marais' first novel, Hum if You Don't Know the Words, so was looking forward to reading this one and I was not disappointed.

The chapters rotate among Ruth, her sister Delilah, and Zodwa, with each woman telling her version of the events as they unfold. You will not be surprised to know that I like this format. Ruth is a character whom it is difficult to like until quite near the end, even though there are glimpses of goodness in her. It's easier to empathize with Delilah because we learn her back story much earlier. But for me, Zodwa is the one who captured my heart and pulled me through the book. She has so little, never complains, shoulders the burden for multiple people in her life, and still looks out for others.

This book is full of strained family relationships, love gone sideways, heartache, and friendship, all with the rise of HIV/AIDS, class conflict, racism, reconciliation, and the end of Apartheid as threads that weave the stories together. Marais handles is all deftly as it comes to a head and I couldn't put the book down.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • A to Z--"I" (February challenge: plutonic love)
  • Diversity--Black characters
  • Historical fiction--end of Apartheid (mid 1990s)
  • Popsugar--on my TBR list and I meant to read it last year, but didn't

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