In the 1990s, Zodwa is a 17-year-old girl living in a squatter’s camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg with her mother. The constant threat of civil war and the disappearance of her brother years ago haunts their every step. Overwhelming poverty casts its shadow over their lives—as does the growing AIDS epidemic. And Zodwa, once the hope of her mother, is pregnant.
Ruth might be wealthy, but she’s far from happy. She knows her husband wants a divorce, and when her drinking leads her places she never intended, she ends up living on the empty family farm outside Johannesburg…where the sister she hasn’t seen for decades arrives unannounced. Delilah is a disgraced former nun haunted by a past she’s never spoken of, a past her sister knows nothing about. When they find an abandoned baby on their porch, they are confronted with their own beliefs about motherhood, race, and the secrets of the past.
If You Want to Make God Laugh is not a book meant for light reading. There are some very heavy topics here, and these three women have experienced truly terrible things. They might be broken, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong. Poverty and violence shadow their lives and the life of their community. The setting, on the cusp of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa, is torn by conflict, war, and disease. However, this is a wonderful, wonderful read.
Bianca Marais is from South Africa but now lives in Toronto. If You Want to Make God Laugh is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)