An important rumination on youth in modern-day South Africa, this haunting debut novel tells the story of two extraordinary young women who have grown up black in white suburbs and must now struggle to find their identities. The rich and pampered Ofilwe has taken her privileged lifestyle for granted, and must confront her swiftly dwindling sense of culture when her soulless world falls apart. Meanwhile, the hip and sassy Fiks is an ambitious go-getter desperate to leave her vicious past behind for the glossy sophistication of city life, but finds Johannesburg to be more complicated and unforgiving than she expected. These two stories artfully come together to illustrate the weight of history upon a new generation in South Africa.
"Two Types of Coconut"
By Leslie Reese on May 06, 2014
A "coconut" in South Africa is what's called an "oreo" in the United States: black on the outside and white on the inside. This story is about two different types of coconuts---Ofilwe and Fikile---two young South African girls who are seething with the rage of having no love for their blackness. Kopano Matlwa has written this book in fast-moving parts: the first in Ofilwe's voice, while the second is written in Fikile (aka "Fiks")'s voice. At one point another voice is added---that of Ofilwe's brother, Tshepo---providing a much needed counterpoint and I was disappointed not to hear more from him. When Fikile says "I need to spring-clean my head. There is a real big mess up there but I am too afraid to go in because I do not think I have the strength to handle the task of tidying it all." could she be uttering the emotions behind Matlwa's need to lay these relentless truths on the table? I craved some tenderness or the presence of a wise parent, teacher, or mentor; however, their absence did not make this book less readable. The scattered english spoken by Ofilwe's mother seemed to be both metaphor and symbol for the clash of sensibilities present in post-apartheid South Africa.
South Africa from a Youth Perspective
By Maryh on Mar 23, 2013
When you begin to read popular third world literature, you often read from the perspectives of businessmen, or housewives, or militia. It is not often, however, that you read a third world novel that centers around the youth perspective. Kopano Matlwa in her novel Coconut, delves into the post-apartheid world of South Africa through the eyes of two young girls learning what it means to grow up black in a white world. The novel is divided into two parts, one for each girl's narration and is told through two fonts, italics to identify the past and standard font to narrate the present. Through rich description, vivid word choice, and relatable characters, Matlwa is able to make a novel about a very specific group of people a novel that everyone can take lessons from. Ofilwe, or Fifi, is a young, pampered girl who grows up in a white suburb with her mother, father, and brother Tshepo. At a young age, Fifi does not understand why she is sometimes treated differently from the other girls. She is one of the few black girls in her school, and they do not always understand her ways. Her best friend, Belinda, even tries to change her speech pattern to match hers. "No Fifi! You have to learn how to speak properly...Do you want to be laughed at again?" (49). Her older brother, Tshepo, works to show her that white people are not their friends. She does not listen to him however, but learns on her own as she grows older. That is truly what her narrative is, a story of her learning that even though she is believed to be an equal of her white classmates, they will never accept her as one of them. Fifi's story is a heartbreaking realization that laws cannot change how people think. The reader watches as she grows older, and slowly begins to realize lose the innocence that she stared with. Boys wouldn't kiss her because her lips were too dark, girls wouldn't talk to her because she didn't fit in with them, and she was afraid to bring her mother to parents night at school because she couldn't speak English. However, Fifi is grateful for everything she has. When she overhears her mother discussing to her sister how her father had cheated on her, she thinks in horror of the life she would have had if her mother had not married her father, even though she did not love him. "Instead of waking up to my cubed fruit, muesli and mixed nuts on a bed of low-fat grandadilla yoghurt, would I begin my day by polishing the red stoep that just out at the front of Koko's two roomed-house?" (13). Fifi's story is the story of many young women in South Africa, who are stuck between two worlds, neither of which will ever fully accept them. Fikile has a different story from Fifi. Fikile, orphaned as a young child, was raised in a township by her uncle and her grandmother, Gogo. She grew up poor, and learned from a young age that the only way she would get out of her home would be to be white and successful. When she was asked in school was she wanted to be when she grew up, she simply stated "white". Sexually abused by her uncle from a young age, she learned to foster contempt for her world and the hand that was dealt to her. She decided to do whatever it took to get ahead in the world she lives in. She got a job at a fancy restaurant, even though it meant stealing black jeans for her uniform. She invested in green eye contacts, hair extensions, and skin whitener to change her appearance. She often even puts herself over other black people, describing them as inferior to her because she is working her way up in the world. Her story is one of learning who you are and learning who you need to be, and how to make those two things work together. Coconut is the story of a forgotten South Africa, one that is neither black nor white. A South Africa that is half stuck in the old ways, and half trying to move forward. Fikile and Fifi are the voices of their generation, one looking for a way to fit in, and another looking for a way out. Matlwa beautifully weaves together a narrative that shows this hidden South Africa, and brings the reader into this world. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, as it is a good example of post-apartheid South Africa that the mainstream media left behind.