Book Review – If I Stay Right Here

by Chwayita Ngamlana (Blackbird Books) ISBN: 9781928337447

Shay, a journalism student in Jo’burg, meets Sip, an unreformed bad girl when she goes to interview her in prison for a radical blog she writes for – and the two girls are drawn into an intense love affair. Their relationship is a dangerous cocktail of lust, jealousy, young love, infidelity and co-dependency – and one you can’t stop reading. It will hit a nerve with anyone – straight or gay – who has been in a destructive relationship.

Raw, unapologetic, intense – each page has so much energy and emotion that you feel you are living this radical love story frame by frame. At times, Ngamlana writes with such beauty and honesty that is almost like poetry. Other times, the narrative seems rushed and clumsy and the dialogue amateurish – but it is never anything less than riveting.

If I Stay is less of a novel and more of a fictional montage and one senses an autobiographical undertow in the stinging insights and brutal honesty. I think a stronger and more perceptive editor could have shaped a better structure and steered the writer from a less experimental plot. But a writer with Ngamlana’s talent and fearlessness is going places in South Africa’s literary circles.

Her first book is a page turner. I found it hard to put it down and turn out the light.  This is the diversity in writing publishers should be looking for and the fresh voices readers in our country crave in a sea of formulaic vanilla fiction.

Anthony Ehlers

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