Reviews

housemaid daughter

The voice of Ada, a young black girl speaks volumes about the situation in South Africa during apartheid. This is a moving debut novel and I couldn’t put it down. I read it in two days.

With a captivating blend of insight and integrity, Mutch will transport you to South Africa and give you vivid images of what the country was like when the colour of a man or woman’s skin marked out their destiny.

Ada Mabuse, a housemaid’s daughter is a powerful symbol for black women, an example of the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

Ada’s friendship with her white Irish-born ‘mistress’ is so special and I love the way they both try to break down barriers that separate them as two different races.

Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa and marry her fiancé Edward, a man she has not seen for five years. Despite the births of her two children, Phil and Rose, Cathleen feels isolated and estranged at Cradock House in the great semi-desert of Karoo and starts to find solace in her diary and the friendship of her housemaid Miriam’s young daughter Ada.

Born in 1930 in her mother’s kaia under the bony shade of a thorn tree at the back of the big house, Ada feels a part of the family. And Cathleen recognises in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her husband and her own daughter. With the help of Cathleen, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist, and learns to read and as a result she cannot resist turning the pages of Madam’s diary, discovering all of Cathleen’s secrets.

When Ada is compromised and finds she is expecting a mixed-race child – one who ‘belongs nowhere… who falls in between’ – she flees her home, determined to spare Cathleen the knowledge of her betrayal, and the disgrace that would descend upon the family. Ada is forced to carve out a life for herself, her child and her music. But Cathleen still believes in Ada, and even when she knows it is a risk, she keeps searching for her and persuades her to return with her daughter. She doesn’t judge Ada and accepts her and her daughter back in her home.

The music which is the soul of Ada’s friendship with Cathleen keeps them both going until the end. This is a very sad and touching story, with loss, love, friendship and hatred. Without giving too much away…Ada outlives everyone she loves and you will feel for her.

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