Set against the background of the 1976 Soweto student march against the Bantu Education Act, When Morning Comes is a multi-faceted novel that covers many important themes: the segregation of Black, White, and Indian racial groups in apartheid South Africa; the intelligence and determination of Black youth to plan and execute a political movement; adolescent idealism to give up all for a cause they passionately believe in; interracial cooperation; and a love triangle. Arushi Raina employs plot, characterization, and narrative style to advance the above themes with sophistication.
Told through the first-person voices of four young revolutionaries — Zanele and Thabo (Black), Jack (White), and Meena (Indian) — the story weaves back and forth from the opulent homes of the privileged Whites, to the poverty and overcrowding of Soweto, and to the in-between world of the Indian community. The book especially provides insight into the role of the relatively unseen Indian community. As Meena states, “To be neither black nor white was to have different unclear loyalties. It wasn’t assumed that we were political agitators” (46). Through the first-person voices of these characters we learn that they are further separated because of the biases, stereotypes, and experiences they have been exposed to about other races. However, in spite of these rigid distinctions, the main characters cross racial barriers in order to fulfill their political or romantic aims.
The multiple viewpoints and voices move the narrative forward, giving essential details of an incident or plan that only the speaker knows about and of which the others are unaware. This technique not only heightens the tension of the plot but also forces readers to figure out what is happening and why. Because both Jack and Thabo love Zanele, the love triangle complicates and makes the plot even more interesting. Association with Zanele makes Jack look at his own privileged life from a clearer perspective and he becomes critical of it: “I saw everything in a new unpleasant light that made it difficult to carry on as I did” (135). The narrative style is also employed to manipulate the pace of the story through the length or brevity of the first-person segments, as well as artistically individualizing each character and pointing out his/her strengths and weaknesses. Everything fits neatly into the overall plot, including information on the minor characters and their involvement in the revolution. In the process of crossing boundaries, these bold and nonconformist young people evolve into strong friends, compassionate human beings, and responsible citizens.
Reviewed by Meena Khorana, Ph.D. Emeritus, Morgan State University
Published in Africa Access Review (February 11, 2018)
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