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The Whale Caller.

* The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda Farrar, Straus and Giroux, December 2005 $23, ISBN 0-374-28785-6

A love triangle involving a man, a woman and a whale might seem implausible, but this is the premise of Zakes Mda's most recent novel, The Whale Caller. Part of what makes this author's work so captivating is his ability to bend reality, transforming the mundane into something magical. The story begins in Hermanus, a small village in Mda's native South Africa, which has been made famous by the whales that migrate there each year. The whales attract tourists from all over the world, and the town even has a whale crier whose sole responsibility is to alert visitors to the animals' movements.

But Hermanus is also home to the Whale Caller, a man who has spent most of his 60-odd years communicating with the great mammals by imitating their songs with a horn made of kelp. Other residents of the village include Saluni, a woman who is addicted to wine and, increasingly, to the Whale Caller himself; Mr. Yodd, the Whale Caller's unseen confessor; and Saluni's friends the "Bored Twins," nine-year-old girls with angelic voices and a sadistic streak that seems to strengthen over time.

These characters live on the margins of society, which might explain why; for all of their differences, Saluni and the Whale Caller are drawn to each other--building a relationship that is vastly complicated by Saluni's selfishness and the Whale Caller's obsession with a female whale he calls Sharisha. Ultimately, their passions prove to be their downfall.

Narrated with considerable skill and more than a touch of irony, The Whale Caller is about those whom society fails to value. Mda treats his characters with dignity, affirming their humanity and their experiences. Hermanus, the real-life village that figures so largely in Mda's story, is a town trying to find its place in the "new South Africa"--between the wealthy visitors who build expensive homes there and longtime residents who can barely afford the necessities. Altogether, Mda's choice of setting, his quirky but compelling characters, his use of humor, and his inventiveness make this novel, his fifth, a standout.
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Author:Simon, Denise
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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