Book Review: Hum If You Don’t Know The Words by Bianca Marais

Man oh man! I am finally getting around to reviewing this book. Initially, I thought I needed to wait in order to get my thoughts together, but I was just procrastinating. I read this probably like two months ago and here is my review.

About the book

Author: Bianca Marais

Published: July 2017

Pages: 432

Other works: Bianca is currently working on another novel; If You Want to Make God Laugh


Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty and Robin’s alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

My Review

I have been following Bianca on Bookstagram for a while and didn’t realize that she had a novel. I will start by saying that she is a sweet person who does alot of work providing aide to orphans and their caregivers in Soweto, South Africa. I commend her for that alone. That’s leads me to state that this book was purchased with my own money and this review is of my own, honest opinion.

Hum If You Don’t Know The Words is actually based in Soweto; which allows Bianca to give a first hand account of the current conditions of the land. The story is based in the 70’s, which makes it historical fiction; taking place during the Apartheid-era. Bianca throws in tidbits about Nelson Mandela which I am not sure are fiction or not, but I enjoyed this added nuance.

Robin and Beauty form a bond despite the racial tension and oppression fostered by white natives. Because Robin is a child and has no real understanding of what is going on around her, she constantly speaks out of turn and seems to be a spoiled brat at times. Suffering the loss of her parents makes Robin go deeper into her imaginary world; i.e. her imaginary friend Cat who is basically her twin sister who died at birth. She uses her as a way to cope and while her parents are alive they allow her to keep up the charade. Once she is left with her aunt Edith, she has to grow up and reluctantly get rid of Cat. Initially, in the book you don’t realize Cat is not real.

On the other hand, Beauty is forced to leave her children is search of her estranged daughter who becomes involved with the Soweto Uprising; a group of young African protesters.  She is determined to find her and ends up becoming Robin’s caregiver in order to hide in Soweto without papers. Robin feels as if Beauty is in debt to her and some of the things that come out of this child’s mouth made me want to reach through this book and snatch her up. But Robin learned quickly that she needs Beauty and ended up working (ineffectively at first) to help her find her daughter. The book switches back and forth between these characters which allows the reader to get a full perspective of what each character is dealing with.

The book was well written and kept me engaged; however, there were many parts that were way to convenient and even unnatural. I also felt that the ending was rushed and I would have loved to see more from the daughter (Beauty’s) that most of this book was centered around. The descriptions and prose were excellent and I am looking forward to more from Bianca. For a debut novel, this was a great story and I never expect perfection.

Overall, I gave this book 4 stars and would definitely recommend.

Have you read Hum If You Don’t Know The Words? What did you think of this book?

Happy Reading


3 thoughts on “Book Review: Hum If You Don’t Know The Words by Bianca Marais

  1. Anytime I see that a white person has written anything about a time and place of racial tension, I am automatically concerned. Does this story really reflect that this author is coming to this a perspective that is helpful, interesting, or enkightened?

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