Readers of Zakes Mda’s first novel, Ways of Dying, will remember the main character, Toloki, the homeless man who decided to create his own profession, that of professional mourning. This strange entrepreneurial trait in Mda’s characters resurfaces in The Whale Caller, where yet another vagrant sets himself up in opposition to the traditional ‘Whale Crier’ of Hermanus. In any event, Toloki is back in Cion, although it is not really necessary to read Ways of Dying first.
This time around, Toloki finds himself in Ohio, USA on Halloween night where he bumps into a young man who is thrilled to find someone from Africa, and takes him home to meet his family. The Quigley family are part-native American, part-Caucasian and part-African American, and proud of it. For a large part of the novel, Mda alternates between the modern day narrative and the story of the Quigley’s slave ancestors, and how they intermingled with the white population.
The matriarch of the Quigley family, Ruth, is a very traditional woman who is quite harsh on her two children. She is especially disappointed with her daughter, Orpah, whose artistic talents she tries to suppress. Ruth’s husband, Mahlon, is a quiet and mysterious man who doesn’t seem to take part in family life at all. But, with the arrival of Toloki, issues that have lain dormant for many years will once again resurface and, this time, he will demand that they be dealt with.
by: Calvin Scholtz, Wordsworth Longbeach