The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo Review
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Deep in the quiet, secluded veld in Namibia lies Goas, an underprivileged school for underprivileged boys—mostly the sons of poor native farmers. Out on the veld, there’s very little to entertain the teachers, a motley crew of men—the newest of which is Larry Kaplanski, a volunteer from Cincinnati. So the teachers spend their time telling stories from their past and fantasizing about the school’s two young female residents—Dikeledi, the beautiful wife of an undeserving fellow teacher, and Mavala Shikongo, the school’s greatest mystery.

Though she’s the principal’s sister-in-law, it’s clear that Mavala doesn’t belong at Goas. She’s beautiful and strong—a former soldier. And she distances herself from her fellow teachers—which only makes them fantasize about her even more.

One day, Teacher Shikongo disappears without warning—and no one’s really surprised. The surprise comes several weeks later—when she returns, this time with a son, who's about a year old. No one dares to ask her about Tomo’s father—or about where she really went during her absence (though there are plenty of rumors)—and she offers no answers.

The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo is a story told in snapshots. Through the short chapters—which are often just a few paragraphs long, just a snippet of a conversation spoken through the walls of the teachers’ dorms—readers get an intimate look into the lives of the teachers, their school, and their country. It’s not a traditional story, told in a traditional way. There’s no build-up, no edge-of-your-seat action, no climax or dénouement. In fact, it’s often as sleepy as the drought-ravaged veld that the teachers call home.

I’ll admit that I was frustrated by the book’s end, which felt like there was really no end at all. It’s not a book that makes you feel like things are settled once it’s over—or that the questions are answered. But, then again, Mavala Shikongo is not a character who provides any answers—and Orner writes her story exactly as he should. So if you like your books to be filled with action or comedy—or to have an obvious beginning and end—you’ll find this book frustrating. On the other hand, though, the stories told throughout the book are fascinating, giving small glimpses into the lives of the characters. And if you can appreciate a vividly picturesque read, driven by a cast of striking characters, you’ll be captivated by Mavala Shikongo and her band of loyal admirers.

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