“The Young journalist has an exceptional grasp of world affairs, which he attribute to his hyphenated identity. He says. ‘Well I sometimes wonder. Am I South African? Am I an Indian? Am I a Muslim? Rather, more wonderfully, am I all these things blended into one and created for a purpose? I have been obsessed with these issues, Middle Eastern politics, migration, social justice, for long as I remember. It could be all because I am a a baby of the new South Africa. We were born into a miracle and an ideal, at the same time as our country reinvented itself and soothed the painful scars of racial oppression.” You would think Imran Garda was writing about himself? However, in this case they are the words of Yusuf Carrim, the protagonist in The Thunder That Roars, the debut novel by Garda.
A book I managed to read in two days, Garda brings his descriptive magic, wit, current affairs, identity, religion, travelling monologue and short bursts of African and Indian heritage and eccentricities into a seismic mix of intrigue and what happens next mode.
The characters in the book are full of flavour, from Barack the Somali refugee to Sukuzukuduma the Zimbabwean veteran patriach. Garda relates their stories intertwined into events and moments that any student of current affairs can relate to.
As someone who has worked in a newsroom there were instances in novel where I thought, damn, why couldn’t live the professional life of Carrim, at times his experiences were too good to be true (but of course not with the emotional baggage related to his new found heritage), but nevertheless, who wouldn’t want to be a famous international journalist jet setting the world and managing to deliver the odd Juma Khutbah?.
Garda, in my opinion strikes it gold by weaving the story of Carrim into the narratives of the Arab Spring, South African Indian Islam, racism, migrant workers and immigration coupled with a thorough description of life and surroundings of New York, Johannesburg, Bulawayo and Lampedusa. Similarly the characters of Yusuf, Jack, Fehmida and Naazim can be related to any man of Gujarati descent. I enjoyed studying these characters and their experiences, whether it was the realism of Yusuf, the panache and guilt of Jack, the unfulfilled yet material life of Fehmida and the ‘son I never had’ character of Naazim. I understood their complexities and mindsets as I for one felt I not only knew them but may have met their types in Sandton, Birmingham and Toronto.
If you are someone who has an understanding of identity politics, African society and a passion for international affairs coupled into a story of fiction where it is not related to a middle class European narrative then this book is the one for you. The Thunder That Roars is not only a debut novel for Imran Garda, but an inspiration for many current and former journalists that a career in literature writing can be achieved. I just can’t wait for his second book.