September 13, 2019
Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, (post-Apartheid) South Africa, Family Life, Sisters
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If You Want to Make God Laugh is the compelling story of three unforgettable women living in post-Apartheid South Africa at the time of a growing AIDS epidemic and threats of civil war. Zodwa is seventeen, pregnant, poor, and lives in a squatter’s camp. Ruth and Delilah are middle-aged sisters who live on an inherited, rural farm. While Ruth is an unhappy, disillusioned, and newly divorced socialite, Delilah is a former nun and social worker who is hiding a big secret. A newborn baby will bring these characters together, and this is a story of their precarious relationships, of sibling jealousy, rivalry, and healing, and of found family.
If You Want to Make God Laugh…..tell Him your plans.
If you’ve read Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, I promise that you won’t want to miss this new release by Biana Marais!
Characters: I love the complicated relationship between the two sisters in this story. Their relationship is filled with antagonism, jealousy, admiration, misunderstandings, conflict, reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing. I appreciate that the dialogue is realistic and, at times, humorous. We can image these sisters as real people navigating impossible and complicated circumstances.
A Companion Read: If You Want to Make God Laugh can be considered a companion read to Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by the same author. If You Want to Make God Laugh can absolutely be read as a stand-alone (Beauty and Robin are mentioned). Although both received four stars in my reviews, I experienced If You Want to Make God Laugh as the more compelling, page-turning read. I attribute this to the connection I felt with the sisters, the sibling relationship, and compassion for their circumstances.
The Writing: Bianca Marais is a skilled and powerful writer, and the narrative is clearly constructed and flows. From her time living and serving in South Africa, her vivid descriptions help the reader appreciate the culture and help us feel like we’re right in the middle of the story. In addition, it seems that she has a deep understanding of the story’s issues, a definite perspective, and a strong point of view. Thoughtful themes include sibling relationships, motherhood, found family, sacrifice, reconciliation, foster care, life’s disappointments or challenges, and difficult decisions.
“I’d often wondered since then if a child could be inoculated in the womb against the horror of the world through the power of its mother’s love; if that love could infuse joy into a child even when her presence couldn’t.”
“Zodwa’s first lesson in motherhood is that it’s a condition that cannot be reversed. A mother who has lost her child is no less of a mother; if anything, her maternal instincts are made even sharper since what she nurses is heartache and regret and, just like she would a baby, she carries them strapped to her back at all times.”
Own Voices Author? When reading a diverse book, I’m always curious if the author is an “own voices” author. Bianca Marais is an insider having been born in South Africa and having worked with a company providing for HIV/AIDS orphans and their caregivers. She also encourages women in South Africa to tell their “own voices” stories. If you are an “own voices” reviewer, please leave your link in comments!
Content Warning: rape, attempted abortion, AIDS
Recommended: I highly recommend If You Want to Make God Laugh for readers looking for compelling and character-driven historical fiction, for those seeking more diversity in their reading lives or for those who have lived or served in South Africa, for fans of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, and for book clubs because of the variety of discussion possibilities.
My Rating: 4 Stars
If You Want To Make God Laugh Information
Meet the Author, Bianca Marais
Bianca Marais holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, and her work has been published in World Enough and Crime.
Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company, and volunteered with Cotlands where she assisted care workers in Soweto with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans.
Originally from South Africa, she now resides in Toronto with her husband.
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Next week, I’m planning a “best read of summer” post and a review of With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (looking back on Goodreads, I realized I forgot to review this one!)
My hold of The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall finally came in at the library! I’m so excited to read this one! What fall read are you excited about?
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