Ubuntu: Unconditional Love
by Anita Schattenberg
BookVenture Publishing

"His touch sent her heart rate soaring, while her brain warned that she was like the fly in the spider’s web. The spider closed in on her."

The place is South Africa. The time is just prior to the end of Apartheid. The cast of characters spans social, economic, and racial divisions. The story is a tale that encompasses pride, prejudice, violence, fear, love, betrayal, responsibility, and rebirth. It sweeps you into a world where the depths of poverty abut the heights of privilege, and lives crisscross borders at their peril. It’s a chronicle of self-awareness and personal awakenings, a narrative of individuals often making bad decisions for good reasons. It’s the kind of novel readers often hope to find—big, bold, and involving.

Joshua is a Zulu doctor who studied medicine in the United States. In his home country, he witnesses an event that changes his life forever. A bus full of school children is attacked by random gunfire. Some are killed. Many are injured. He confronts one of the attackers who is little more than a child himself. The experience convinces Joshua that he must do something to help the young traumatized by the constant violence that pervades their society. He puts a plan in place to open a hospital specializing in treating children who are both physically and mentally damaged. Anna is the Australian wife of a white South African businessman. An attempted purse-snatching is the impetus that sets her on a course to see what she can do to help turn alienated youths without hope into potentially productive citizens. She convinces her husband to help fund a school that will introduce technology to troubled kids. Joshua and Anna’s paths cross and their lives become intertwined in ways neither could ever have imagined. Before the novel’s end, their relationship rubs up against financial corruption, extortion, kidnapping, and more.

Schattenberg is an engaging storyteller. Her plot takes various twists and turns that are decidedly non-traditional. She imbues her characters with traits, behaviors, and actions that help them rise above what’s normally expected. In addition to Joshua and Anna, supporting players also become highly memorable. For example, there is Sipho, a relatively young HIV-positive administrator who has more life behind him than in front of him. There’s also Indira, a widow realistic about becoming a mistress, but who is first and foremost a dedicated surgeon. The author breathes life into these individuals and more, peopling her pages with inhabitants we feel better for knowing.

The author’s involving use of dialogue is a plus as well. She does a first-rate job of keeping her conversations clean, crisp, and credible. Some writers feel the need to burden their banter with story exposition, but Schattenberg uses hers to reinforce character behavior, which in turn aids authenticity.

There’s a medicinal dose of history and politics in this tale, but it never becomes hard to take. That’s because Schattenberg has an excellent grasp of just how much political background is necessary for understanding the tenor of the times without impeding the pace of her story or the focus on her protagonists’ aspirations. Agile insertion of information regarding the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party provide insights that feel organic. They deliver necessary input without pausing for polemics.

In the end, some readers may take issue with the decisions key characters make, but such is life. What readers will likely not take issue with is the adventure, romance, and entertainment this novel provides.

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