Amal and Claud have been married for three years, they come from very different backgrounds, but share the same hopes and dreams. Yesterday Claud miscarried their first child. Today Amal is trying to come to terms with the alien-like stranger who sits alongside him in the car, who used to be his wife.
Narrated throughout by Amal, this is a short, yet stark look at modern-day marriage. Not only do this couple have to deal with the horror of losing a baby; a baby that they'd only known about for twenty one days, they also have to deal with the clash of cultures that their marriage has brought about. Claud's white middle-class parents try to deal with Amal's colour and Indian heritage as best they can, emphasising their terms of endearment so that nobody could ever accuse them of prejudice.
There is an underlying tension running through this story which keeps the reader on edge, almost fearful of what may happen. Claud has decided that her parents should not know about the miscarriage and upon entering her childhood home has reverted back to a childlike state. Doted on by her parents, allowed to dress up in her mother's cocktail gown, or bury sad memories in a Tupperware box in the garden - this is Claud's way of coping. Amal, on the other hand is lost. He feels left out, excluded and finds it incredibly difficult to accept the congratulations thrust upon him by the villagers.
Although narrated by Amal and heavily featuring Claud and her parents, it is Claud and Amal's marriage that takes centre stage in this novel. Almost stripped bare by both of them in their desperate need to understand what went wrong, their relationship begins to teeter and fall, and one wonders if it will ever regain it's balance.
Although bleak, this is an excellent novel, with a flash of humour and a lot of humanity. Niven Govinden's writing is engaging, descriptive and incredibly readable.
Black Bread White Beer was published by The Friday Project at the beginning of May.
My thanks go to The Friday Project for sending my copy for review.