King William’s Town-born Masande Ntshanga’s debut novel, The Reactive, is about family, secrets, and desperation.
The story is about three friends, Lindanathi, Ruan and Cecilia, who live a run-down flat in Cape Town. They make their living selling illegal pharmaceuticals. The HIV-positive Lindanathi, who is the protagonist, also sells his ARVs to those who are extremely ill, but often too ashamed to get treatment or are so far gone, it is likely too late. Set against the background of the Mbeki Aids-denialism 2000s, the despair of sufferers are clear.
The trio’s boredom and bleak outlook of the future mean they regularly get high themselves. Nathi is trying to repress the memories and trauma of losing his younger brother during a traditional initiation ritual some years back.
One day a strange happening breaks the monotony. An anonymous man calls, wanting to buy Lindanathi’s entire supply of ARVs. The man has the group’s ID numbers, and out of fear he may report them to the police, the three friends agree to meet him. This bizarre encounter is the impetus for a change in Nathi’s life as he questions his relationship with his family and a past that haunts him.
A general sense of hopelessness permeates the book, though there is a chance of redemption at the end. The prose is beautiful and probing. Ntshanga is certainly a voice to watch.