Saturday, July 13, 2019

New release: If You Want to Make God Laugh, by Bianca Marais, on sale July 16

Our buyer Jason first told me about Bianca Marais's novel, Hum If You Don't Know the Words. He was on the Indies Introduce judging panel, where a number of booksellers had taken to this story of two lost souls finding each other during the Soweto Uprising in South Africa. We wound up having six booksellers at Boswell read and recommend the title. Marais spoke at a lovely Lynden Sculpture Garden event, and we went on to sell many more copies in hardcover and paperback.

Aside: This month's Lynden event, produced by Milwaukee Reads, is Beatriz Williams, whose new novel is The Golden Hour, a story featuring the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, set in Nassau. It's this Sunday, July 14, 2 pm and they are still taking phone reservations at (414) 446-8794. Sorry, the online registration is closed. Signed copy requests also available. At this point, you should call Boswell (414) 332-1181 for that.

At the time, Marais told us she might work on a sequel to Hum If You Don't Know the Words because lots of people who read the book wanted to know what happened next. But those can be tough to sell, so I'm glad her second novel, If You Want to Make God Laugh, is a completely new story, still set in South Africa, but this time during the election of Nelson Mandela. It's about two sisters, somewhat estranged but forced together again, who find a black baby on their doorstep, as well as the woman who comes to take care of the child. Delilah and Ruth are very different, but have both been through traumas, with Ruth having had at least one abusive husband and Delilah having given up her child long ago when she was preparing to be a nun.

Actually, all three women have had to deal with sexual abuse and they all have scars. But now they are also fighting folks involved in the Afrikaner resistance movement, specifically their neighbors who want to buy up their family farm for their own operation, and will do anything to get them to leave. I think it's now time for Boswellian Jenny's recommendation.

"Set in South Africa during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, there’s no question that If You Want to Make God Laugh tells a heart wrenching story, but it’s also exactly the kind of thought-provoking book that stays with me long after turning the last page. Two of the main characters are white, sisters who haven’t seen each other in decades, and the third is their black teenage maid, Zodwa. Over the course of the novel, all of them confront what motherhood means in their very different lives. Ruth and Delilah arrive back at the abandoned house they grew up in within hours of each other, both for reasons they’d rather keep secret. Delilah is an aid worker who almost became a nun, while Ruth, known to the tabloids as South Africa’s wild child, has just attempted to fake her own suicide in a misguided bid to save her failing (third) marriage.

"Tension between the sisters is fraught enough, and when an abandoned black newborn appears on the doorstep the sisters’ opposite but equally intense reactions further divide them. Ruth would like the baby to stay, and Delilah knows she can’t possibly endure sharing her home with a child. Delilah’s story of betrayal is perhaps the most poignant, and I blinked back tears for the loss she endured, but Zodwa and even the seemingly self-centered Ruth are richly developed characters. The writing is so lovely I could blanket the sky with the stars If You Want to Make God Laugh deserves. Don’t miss this one!" --Jenny Chou

We've used The Help and The Secret Life of Bees as comparison for Marais's first novel and it might even be more apt for If You Want to Make God Laugh. Concerned about making sure she is not writing white savior novels, Marais has been careful to get sensitivity readings on her books. Photo at left is from her last event at the Lynden.

Here's a nice recommendation from Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter: “You will absolutely love this book. You will. Why? Because Bianca Marais’s heart is immense and full of love. With unsparing insight into the human condition, she unspools a tale that is at once heartbreaking as it is merciful, validating our frailty while eulogizing our endless capacity for generosity and love. We all need the deep refuge of Bianca Marais’s exceptional voice.”

Maris does a great job of setting the time and place and completely hooks you with the life-or-death stakes for many of the characters. It's also hard not to fall in love with Ruth, Delilah, and Zodwa, despite Ruth's best efforts to make you think ill of her. And yes, there's a lot of drama in the story, but that's what helps keep you hooked.

We're doing this event on a Friday afternoon (Friday, July 19, 2 pm, to be exact), being that there is so much going on Friday evening in Milwaukee, from Festa Italiana to Gallery Night. The event is free, but we're requesting registration, and we'll be giving out ten $5 Boswell gift cards in a drawing to folks who both register and attend the event. The link is  If you'd like a signed copy, Marais's latest goes on sales July 16 and we'll have signed copies after the event.

Photo credit: Jory Nash

No comments: