Book Review “The Mudhut I Grew Upon” by Thabo Katlholo

The art of storytelling is our cultural thumbprint; it is part of our identity. Stories told in between laughter and ululation, having our greatest elders to youngest toddlers circulating a small bonfire.

Overtime, because our creativity was monogamously married to spoken word, our stories started dying out. Our elders dying and not sharing knowledge equated to libraries in our continent burning. This is why I applaud writers of all ages across the Diaspora penning their tales and creating new ones in the process; new stories that document our current and past times.

This is why I heavily debated with myself on the need to do a book review for Motswana writer Thabo Katlholo, on his self published book The Mud Hut I Grew Upon. The novel’s blurb gave me a foggy understanding of the book, but after a taxing defragmentation process of removing verbose words and tautology I got a slight understanding of it as a book on the struggles of people who want to live in the city. A shot in the dark, one thing for sure, it is somewhat set in the capital city of Botswana, Gaborone.

After a thorough read of the book, I realized that the blurb didn’t fully serve its role, but I understood the setting. With 6 main characters who all come from dire circumstances; two boys who became refugees in Botswana ant the backdrop of the civil wars in the DRC, one illegal Zimbabwean immigrant serving as a prostitute in the city to help sustain her family back in Zimbabwe, two boys living in a village with their grandmother having been abandoned by their father, and finally a shady Motswana man who could do literally anything to feed his own demons.

Unfortunately, the writer’s style of expressing the story falls flat, particularly because the manuscript may have not been edited vigorously before publishing. These are the perils of a first time self-publisher. The book is riddled with repeated paragraphs, wrong character identification by the author and changes in diction dialect from formal English to abrasive slang. For example, the writer moved from isolated times of beautifully inscribed magical imagery such as ‘she negotiated herself through the barbed wire’ to ‘shit just got real’. The more you paged over, the more torpid the writing became.  Furthermore, a plethora of verbosity, meant to convey an articulate and seasoned writer, often disrupt the flow of the reader and make it hard to keep a firm grasp on the development of the plot.

I could tell from a reader’s stand point, that the book might be heavily overpriced because it did feel like a manuscript read overtime, with the writer adding in historical and biological facts harshly woven into the book. I could tell the possible talent that the writer has through the foreword of the book, which honestly speaking was my favourite part. He detailed his own story of surviving through entrepreneurship as a scapegoat was witty, relatable and gave a different glimpse on the pressing youth unemployment levels in Botswana (which currently sits on 24% this year according to their ministry of youth, sports and culture reports).

I do appreciate the initial stance that the writer came from ,to keep certain undocumented history of the Kalanga tribe which were inscribed at the beginning of the book. It would’ve been in good spirits if he capitalized on this genuine approach in keeping a culture alive.

The book further serves as a lesson on a continental level, we need platforms on regional, national and continental grounds to nurture and network writers. In documenting our stories, we need more editors who are willing to help young novelists and more book reviewers ready to critically assess the young writers. We need these frameworks not only to keep our stories relevant, well told and documented, but to introduce them as well as stories with moral lessons around the bonfire. This is how our culture evolves.