Genie’s beginning was golden. From a golden egg came this daughter of a brilliant aeronautical engineer and revolutionary, and a Dolly Parton-inspired woman full of life and vibrant colour. While the country around her boiled in unease during war and independence, Genie’s childhood was painted with a different shade – with beauty, laughter and adventures with Marcus Masuku. Yet the politics of the land came crashing in, tinting everything in crimson blood. Forced to flee her home, surrounded by death and aware of the absence of her parents, Genie had to start over at the tender age of 10. Yet Marcus’ family took her in, and surrounded by the adoring family, relative domesticity was hers until the age of 18.
At 18, Genie decides to leave the Masukus. Brilliant, defiant and charged by some invisible force, Genie set out to make a change. This is how she manages to create a unique bond with Vida de Villiers, a street dweller with immense artistic talent, and the two decide take on the world together. Yet as with all tales, there must be an ending. After Genie battles illness for several years, she falls into a coma, once again unintentionally reuniting the Masukus, who desperately seek to see her recovered, and to right their wrongs.
The Theory of Flight is an inventive adventure with underlying tragedy and wonder, which lure you in from the first sentence. In a narrative complete with rich culture, history and deep roots, it’s impossible not to appreciate the mammoth task Ndlovu undertook in creating a world so complete and tangible that it is near impossible not to see the various characters as tangible and alive. With such a detailed and interwoven history, the reader is served an intimate look into the lives that crossed Genie’s path, and made her life what it was.
Apart from a very clever representation on the dangers of war, and of the power of charisma, Ndlovu has penned a stunningly poetic homage to the fact that our lives are shaped by more than just the present bubble in which they play out. Histories comprise a shared past, intricately woven from the experiences of many others; each fingerprint that skirts across our paths is unique and vital. Similarly, it takes a community to create a family; to create a story.
Besides the depth of the plot and beauty of the story as it unfolds, delicate yet unavoidable, Ndlovu has highlighted her talent in the fact that these aspects are so skillfully married. It is rare to find a book with a cast so immense, and spreading across so much of the world, but which remains convincing, and feeling of home. Ndlovu’s true talent lies in her ability to create a feeling of wonder, and of comfort, for your heart cannot help but be buoyed by the events in this book, or by the myriad characters whose own varied lives led to the story. The Theory of Flight is a literary feat, and an immensely vital read, lest we not learn from the mistakes of others. I dare you not to fall in love with it.
The Theory of Flight by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu is published by Penguin Random House South Africa.