Book review: Roads and Bridges

Roads and Bridges

Glynnis Hayward

Catalyst Press

Review: Karen Watkins

American Peace Corp worker Mandy Walker is travelling to Durban through remote KwaZulu-Natal when the taxi runs out of petrol.

The driver disappears in search of fuel, leaving her and an American travelling companion, Ryan, stranded with what turns out to be a quirky, vibrant group of Zulu companions.

Among them are young Mpilo, who wishes to work in nature conservation; the ambitious Lindiwe, who dreams about being a pharmacist; Philani, who wants to escape an imminent forced marriage and finish his studies; the elderly Bongani, who is worried about no longer pleasing his young wives; Thandi, who is buckling under the pressure of becoming pregnant in her middle years to ensure a man’s affection and protection; Reverend Dlamini, who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela; and an 8-year-old Aids orphan named Jabulani, who is in Reverend Dlamini’s care.

Back on the road again and en route to an orphanage, Mandy is drawn to Jabulani’s plight, propelling her to change her direction and help him.

Mandy struggles to overcome language barriers and cultural ones as the group shares a flask of utshawala and debates religion, women’s rights, marriage, parenting, racial violence, the future of South Africa, and more.

The unlikely friendships forged on this day collide as their lives are permanently intertwined. It is this chance meeting that causes Mandy to try to help Jabulani by adopting him but in so doing, she stumbles across the colour barrier while circumventing legal and logistical problems and much opposition.

Through all this one person supports her − a sympathetic lawyer she meets in Durban. This adds to her dilemma, and she is torn by conflicting loyalties.

Struggling between a new love in, and of, South Africa and the promise of security and comfort back home in California for her and Jabulani, Mandy learns the hard lesson of listening to a country on the cusp of change, to her community, and, above all, to her instincts.

Glynnis Hayward, winner of a Pulitzer Center award for citizen journalism, grew up in South Africa. After graduating from the University of Natal, she taught English in South Africa and London before moving to California.

She combines powerful character depictions with the complicated issues of adoption across the colour-line while using her South African background to bring this heart-warming story to life.