Leke is a burdened young man born to a South African mother, Elaine, and a Nigerian father, Oscar. He has never met either of them. When his father was imprisoned, Leke was still in his mother’s womb, and subsequently died when he was five months old. Drained by hardship, his mother lovingly “dumped” him with a woman who was present when he was born. So Leke was raised by his adoptive parents, Jane and Marcus. But Jane, to who Leke was deeply connected, died when he was ten. “Lightness (his nanny) discovers Leke coiled around the stiff body. Arrangements were made and not many words passed between father and son.”
I have always wondered how far one’s past impacts one’s future. In Leke’s case, he was most certainly paralysed by his past. Leke is burdened by a family curse that impacted his father, and his father’s father. The very notion of a “curse” reinforces the idea of being impacted by a past that you have no control over. But can he break this dark cloud that is crippling him through dreams? His glimmer of hope, Jane, is cut short, hence already at ten he concludes that “love is useless. It has no real power”. He grows up to be a young man that lives in and with himself. He struggles with emotional connection and commitment, yet deep down, he yearns for it. This is reflected in his behaviour. He stalks people. He moves from doctor to doctor looking for healing but does not quite want the diagnosis and treatment.
Bom Boy is about bonds of family and friendship. It is about hope in the midst of hardship and uncertainty. Whilst lingering in jail, Oscar still cares enough about the welfare of his wife that when he “missed a letter he could feel his blood slug through his veins, uninterested.” He writes letters to his baby son so that when he grows up, he can understand his circumstances, and hopefully break the curse.
Through his male characters, Omotso shows that men too are in search of love, happiness and a secure family life. But they don’t always wear their vulnerabilities on their sleeves. At the center of Leke’s burdened life is exactly his reluctance to face his past and his yearning for love and happiness. His refusal to open the envelope from his deceased father leads him to carry it with him, literally and figuratively. He carries the burden in his dreams. It is only when he becomes vulnerable to Tsotso that he is willing and able to unburden himself.
Omotso introduces an interesting and sometimes controversial sub-theme in her storyline, that of the parallel reality of the lives of the majority of the black middle class. Oscar is an educated black academic, yet it is clear from his articulation of the family curse that he upholds cultural beliefs. And ultimately it is through visiting a sangoma with Tsotso that Leke is able to break the curse.
Bom Boy is Omotso’s debut novel. It is confusing and difficult to get into in the first few chapters, But, once you get into the flow, you will not put it down. She includes the reader in the day to day struggles of her characters. Describing Elaine’s dreary job as a cashier, she writes: “she pulled the items across the counter. A roll of toilet paper. Two Maggie cubes. Tins of tomato puree. Wait. How much so far.” She also uses chapter titles to straddle the past and the present. Her protagonist, Leke, binds together the burdened life stories of the rest of the characters in the book: Elaine; Oscar; Jane; Marcus; Tsotso.
I recommend the book to those eager to devour fine prose.