Book Review: A Man Who Is Not a Man

Click for a larger image of A Man Who Is Not a Man

by Thando Mgqolozana

    Publication Date:
    List Price: $15.95
    Format: Paperback, 256 pages
    Classification: Fiction
    ISBN13: 9781913175023
    Imprint: Cassava Republic Press
    Publisher: Cassava Republic Press
    Parent Company: Cassava Republic Press
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    Read a Description of A Man Who Is Not a Man

    Book Reviewed by Kadija Sesay

    Male circumcision as an entry into manhood takes place in many traditions including African ones. Mgqolozana tells this story of a young Xhosa man, Fumanekile Mfanekisongqondweni, going through this ritual. But through no fault of his own, it’s a botched job and he ends up with a deformed penis and not completing the ceremony. Anyone whose communities and traditions which embrace circumcision as a rite of passage, knows just how detrimental this is — to the young person concerned and their family — for the rest of their lives and Mgqolozana explains and explores these issues exceedingly well.

    The sub plot is his love interest, Yanda. They are a good match since they have both had rebellious childhoods. The protagonist comes from a Cape Town ghetto, there are a lot of slang terms which are listed in a glossary at the back.

    In some places it is amusing. (The book starts — “This story is about how I came to have an abnormal penis.”) How could you not fail to read on! Yet, in other places, although he tries not to, the sympathy pull is over-egged. There are too many ‘hints’ that his rites into manhood do not go the way it should. Yet as the book starts with a flashback, we realise this early on.

    Original Cover A Man Who Is Not a Man (University of Kwazulu Natal Press, 2009Original Cover (University of Kwazulu Natal Press, 2009)
    Mgqolozana amply shows through the action of others, how the young man was not to blame, yet for some reason, he feels the need to compound this by telling us just how hard done by he is and is in danger of losing the sympathy of the reader. What keeps us going is how he overcomes this challenge, that basically has rendered him, “not a man.”

    Yet, Mgqolozana’s stye of storytelling, written in first person, is thankfully left to flourish although it is clearly “cathartic” one wonders what it will take for him to write a second book that is equally as compelling.

    To say that the telling of this experience in such graphic details is important is an understatement. Male and female circumcision is still undertaken, particularly within “secret societies,” so however the telling, Mgqolozana has broken a major taboo. In itself, this could be seen as a step towards “manhood” as it would not be surprising if a great number of people in his community ostracise him for doing so.

    Going though such an experience brings some wisdom, clarity and philosophising regarding what it is and means to be a man. Of course, it is not circumcision. But this is what his protagonist is up against to prove that in the world scheme of things, circumcision really doesn’t matter.

    Somagwaza was held to be the first man ever to be circumcised the proper way, a long time ago. He’d actually stone-cised himself. He’d laid a stone between his legs, pulled the foreskin over it and pounded the damn thing with another pointy stone until it fell away. He then used certain leaves and herbs to nurse his circumcision and he emerged a man. Somagwaza became the god of men.

    Cover, Sable, ISSUE 14  Spring 2010 I should hope so!

    Amber Mohammed
    (pen name of Kadija Sesay)

    Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared in Sable: The LitMag for New Writing’s “Worth Reading” section, Issue 14 Spring/Summer 2010 – South Africa Issue. The review is of the version published by the University of Kwazulu Natal Press (May 01, 2009). Cassava Republic Press rereleased the book in November of 2020 in the United States and abroad.

    Read Cassava Republic Press’s description of A Man Who Is Not a Man.