Brilliant memoir by addict turned author.
Not in recent years has there been a local book that so powerfully unpacks and interrogates the brutality of abuse, addiction, sex work, recovery, motherhood and mental health issues. While hard-hitting and shocking, it is also deeply inspiring, humorous and simply unputdownable.
In Martin’s unique and evocative style she exposes 1980s apartheid Cape Town, where her five-year-old self is grappling with how she’s going to turn her tar baby doll’s skin into sweet, soft lily-white. What she has learned is that “Whites” are better than “Slamse” and much better than “Blacks”. She doesn’t know how to force her father to stop drinking or gambling or make her mother love her or get the boys and men to stop touching her in secret. She learns how to soothe the pain: through secret masturbation and dishonesty. She also gives her life and heart to Jesus every summer at Scripture Union camps.
As she grows up, she begins to understand the rules of living in her depressed family as well as in her fractured community: “We Don’t Talk About It. Ever.”
In her teens, laden with the awkwardness of bushy, unruly hair, braces and a body shorter and rounder than a Womble’s – and now firmly planted in a “white school”, Desiree-Anne is forced to confront her “Coloured identity crisis”. She turns to self-harm, disordered eating, the thrill of petty theft and escapism through books and acting.
Although she wins a place to study drama at UCT, fearing failure and also sensing her parents cannot afford the tuition, she opts to go to the UK where she gets lost in bars, clubs and pills. On her return to South Africa, she embraces the “free love” Ecstasy trance club scene but when she meets Darren, a heroin addict, she turns to needles. Her search for love and acceptance descends into a self-destructive spiral as an intravenous smack addict.
This is a harrowing memoir on the darkness of addiction, but it is also a touching and sometimes humorous account of a little-girl-turned-woman’s deep need and reckless pursuit for love.