Evening Primrose was recommended by lots of internet people I trust, and so when it came to compiling a Christmas list, I had to put it down. I didn’t actually know what it was about, but from the cover and the title, I got the impression that it was going to be the kind of book that is half poetry, half novel, with long lush descriptions of South Africa and beautiful, poignant bittersweet moments. It isn’t really anything like that.
Evening Primrose is actually a really angry political novel. It’s written as the diary of Masechaba, a young woman who has left her religious mother to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. However, the realities of being a doctor and working within the South African health system are not what she expected. As well as dealing with the pressures of being a doctor, Masechaba is also dealing with her own personal history, her brother’s recent suicide and the legacy of apartheid. She lives with a Zimbabwean doctor named Nyamba who opens her eyes to the xenophobia that exists in South African society, even in Masechaba’s own mother.
I was really impressed by how such a short book managed to explore gender, the legacy of apartheid, mental health, menstruation and more. The author Kopano Matlwa is a doctor herself and is currently studying for a DPhil and Oxford University, which makes the fact that Evening Primrose is actually her third novel all the more impressive.
I don’t want to give away everything that happens in the book because I found that not knowing what to expect made the book so much more shocking and moving. I finished the booked with tears rolling down my cheeks.