Ipi Ntombi

A Memoir

by Felicity Stone
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Love it . . . I could smell the perfume like flowers . . . hear the music . . . see the dancing. I want to read the rest of the memoir.

I will confess this much. For most of it, this story made me uneasy- perhaps the same unease by which I tend to approach literature written by whites on blacks, particularly Africa and Africans. So I sort of kept waiting for Felicity to say the "wrong" thing. In the process I couldn't just readily acknowledge that South Africa could have been a 'home' for her and her family too, although I doubt that she may have had the same attachment to it as did the black South Africans and certainly not the same sense of confusion as we see in the subdued behavior of the Africans at the party.

Mostly- if only subconsciously- I chose to see this as an apologia of sorts. So I thought it a big joke that Pearl appreciates an explicitly revolutionary poetry by an African and even has the audacity to expose Ambrose (who, from the questions he asks, understands the implications of the poem) to it, and that Felicity's mother 'loves' the native African music does not move me most of the time. Then I find some satisfaction when the young Felicity gives up on Maggie (I guess because now I can say, "You see that?"), in Felicity's father's conspicuous absence during the party and more so when Alf goes “You behaving yourself?”, like he's a father talking to kids.

But then the criticism against Ipi Ntombi, that it played into stereotypes, errs me somewhat and I think to myself, "Why can't it just be art for art's sake?" But it's not as simple as that, is it? Because this is not fiction, but a fraction of a bigger story, one of the biggest African stories. And while Felicity is telling the story of a section of her childhood, the voice is not that of a child, so it's suspect that she is telling the story 'as it is'. Still, I'm suddenly thinking, maybe reading this as fiction is the first step to listening 'right'- whatever that is!