Story of trauma endured by SA women

Let me first say that I am so glad the author noted her love for verbosity, because my first observation was that the language of the text is just that: verbose.

As an academic and writer, I have access to the language Koopman uses, but I fear that it would not be as accessible to many. Though it is the style in which she tells her story, it could be simpler.

The story itself is a compelling retelling of trauma endured by generations
of colonised South African women. Centred on the entanglements with her highly dysfunctional father and the ensuing abuse he put her and her family through, the story is all too familiar to many black South Africans who have had to make sense of their lives through trauma.

Koopman grapples with the complex intersections of class, race, sexuality, feminism, mental health and internalised oppression in ways that leave one with more questions than answers.

This may be one of my favourite elements of the book: its comfort with questioning. I find that, though South Africans rightfully demand answers of our desperate social conditions, I am personally more interested in the questions we ask and sit with.

There may be more value in reviewing the location of our questioning so that we can come to more precise answers.

Imagination plays an important role in the story as Koopman is forced to access some of her history through reconstruction, such as in the case of her free-spirited great-grandmother - a woman who refused to be defined until the system rounded her up. It is a beautiful use of cellular memory and creativity.

From a critical race perspective, I am slightly discouraged by the use of the term "brown" to refer to mostly coloured people in the book, though the terms are used interchangeably. I understand the need for differentiation in the South African context, but the term tends to point to a fixed "third race", which is inadequate for engaging the complexities of colouredness in comparison to the global politics unearthed by the popular "of colour" terminology which originated in the US.

Koopman is a skilled wordsmith with a sharp pen for metaphor and imagery. The story is a difficult one to tell, and where language falls short, visceral emotion steps in.

Title: Because I Couldn't Kill You

Author: Kelly-Eve Koopman

Reviewer: Jamil F. Khan

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