Suitcase of Memory
Review: Chantel Erfort
It’s been a long time since I have picked up a book and was unable to put it down.
This was the case for me when, on a sunny winter afternoon, I started reading A’Eysha Kassiem’s Suitcase of Memory and was immediately swept away by the beautiful imagery and the fluidity of her writing.
While I generally avoid books set in Cape Town because they make me feel claustrophobic, I felt a surprising sense of comfort in sharing my time with the familiar characters in this story.
It is told from the perspective of the main protagonist, Bastian Bredenkamp, who is already dead. And while the story structure is far more nuanced than “being told from end to start”, that is partly how Bastian shares his life story with the reader.
Bastian, who has a rare condition which enables him to remember everything that he has ever experienced – including his birth – is heir to the Goedleven farm where he lives with his father, Pa Bastian and mother, Mamma Sanri.
Other key figures in his life are his nanny and mother figure Khadeejathree – so named because her husband has three wives who are all named Khadeeja – and Khadeejathree’s daughter, Rashieda.
The latter two have come into the lives of the Bredenkamps during apartheid, when lines are strictly drawn between those who are white and those who are not.
Their story is woven together with expressions of love, times of tragedy and moments that will require you to stop and catch your breath.
One such moment for me was when the k-word snuck up on me. A powerful literary device that reminds the reader of the power of words and how they are often wielded as weapons.
With great delicacy, Kassiem explores how racial segregation and social hierachy are enforced through language and geographical boundaries put in place by the apartheid-era Group Areas Act – and how love can sometimes supersede these.
However, the path to happiness always involves some sacrifice…
See interview with A’Eysha Kassiem on this website.