Book Review: Mine Boy

Written by Faith Oneya 

The South African novel Mine Boy was written by the prolific author Peter Abrahams in the forties when he still had a Marxist vision of the society; that the society should be egalitarian, that all people are equally important and should therefore have the same rights and opportunities in life. This vision is captured tellingly in the novel’s epigraph:

“But there is neither East nor West, Border nor
Breed nor Birth.
When the strong men stand face to face
Though they come from the ends of the earth”.

The novel is a ‘country come to town story’ that takes on the transition of Xuma whom we meet as a raw village pumpkin – he comes with his very own romanticized ideals and holds the thorough view that the white man is his nemesis but comes to realize, through his work at the mines and his association with Paddy, that the white man is merely a victim of the Apartheid system.

Abrahams examines the impact of the South African City life on Xuma ,not forgetting the impression he has about the people he meets, from matriarch Leah whom he becomes inextricably involved with from the beginning and whom he loves “as a child loves its mother” and who calls him a “fool with people” but slowly introduces him into urban survival and challenges he will face, to the alienated Eliza who wants to be “ like white people”, to the gay ,kind and loving Maisy who finally finds her way into the heart of Xuma and finally the Irishman Paddy (also known as the Red One) who teaches Xuma the philosophy of liberation from colour;

“I am a man first. I want you to be a man first and then a black man”
p. 172. (Ed 1996)

The novel does not simply capture the maturation of Xuma vis a vis economic and political awareness but also dwells on the fate of the rural migrant worker in the face of racial segregation comes in the shape of enforced residence, barriers to social intermingling , separates social amenities and separate education.

Peter Abrahams extols the virtue of human brotherhood and solidarity of the workers in the novel but it would be prudent at this point to mention that he later abandoned this Marxist view as is evident in his later works like A Wreath for Udomo.

Abrahams , Peter (1946) Mine Boy, Kampala: East African Educational Publishers.


Author: Faith Oneya

Lover of the written and spoken word.

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