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Three Egg Dilemma: Conclusion

Morojele’s novel has a first-person narrator (or focalizer, as some of us prefer to say nowadays), whose surname is Mohlala; for obvious reasons, and everyone calls him EG. Unlike many of the other characters, he is not absolutely impoverished, as he has a row of rooms he rents out (albeit his tenants hardly ever pay). He has a vegetable garden, and hires a sweet-natured old gardener called Mkhulu. EG says of himself: “I have learnt how to live poor. Eggs and bread, coffee if there is some in the morning, and my main meal in the late afternoon . . …

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Soon after this comes the line “The shooting finally began” and an account of the country’s rapacious and negligent political elite. Throughout, the language is quietly, unobtrusively elegant, with a fine precision to passages of visual description (“The low sun is only half revealed behind a purposeless, misfit cloud”). Throughout also, there are injections of wry or whimsical humour. A lamb is heard “bleating C major in the mornings and F minor in the evenings.” One character is “as thin and fragile as a high school test tube.” At school pupils are taught “how to measure circumferences, though regrettably never how to measure circumstances.”

In the first significant plot development since the shooting starts, EG takes in a young female boarder, Puleng. He meets her aunt and younger brother (her mother has gone missing) and it’s decided she will stay with him, as a domestic helper and for companionship. The ghost appears again, provoking the question, is it a harbinger of death? Then Puleng lands a job as a waitress at the smart hotel on the hill, where she is renamed Pearl, as this is easier for her white customers to grasp.

Puleng mourns: “‘I do not ever again want to see people killed. I do not want there to be no work. I do not want that people are getting poorer and poorer by the day.’” Shortly after, EG shouts at an impoverished woman: “Socialism!” but that, alas, is as far as that goes.

On his growing fondness for Puleng EG muses: “how could I love if I have never been loved? My heart is without call or consequence.” And there is the constant reminder of horrors. EG meets a former soldier, dagga-talkative, who recounts his kills, comparing them to the slaughter of a sheep.

The ghost visits for a third time, sitting on EG’s chest while he’s in bed and swallowing bits of its own flesh as they drop off. Then a massive upset, as local gangsters, led by a thug called Zuluboy, raid the shop / shebeen where a lot of the novel’s action takes place and murder the owner’s son. I’m not going to tell you any more, as I don’t want to commit a spoiler: just to say that there’s a deepening crisis in the personal lives of the main characters and at the national level, until the neighbouring country intervenes. And that the ghost continues to manifest itself.

Just two small quibbles regarding this wonderful novel. Towards the end, Puleng takes over from EG as narrator, and the transition isn’t clearly signalled, so it’s at first confusing. Second, there’s that title. One can, I think, argue that it’s a little flippant, given the novel’s deep and urgent seriousness.

I’ll finish by commenting on the ghost, and may go a bit off the rails here, because I’m not going to resist my ever-present temptation to talk about Dickens.

When interviewed by the Johannesburg Review of Books Morojele said the ghost’s multiple appearances acted as “a prop. It became something I could bounce ideas off and write activities around.” Now, as my readers should be aware, in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol there are four ghosts who appear at intervals: the ghost of Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. As a fine BBC television film about Dickens, The Man Who Invented Christmas, makes clear, for Dickens these ghosts performed the same inspirational function as they did for Morojele.

One final point. One of Dickens’s characteristics is to fly off into an incandescent rage, and it’s one of the qualities I love him for. This happens in A Christmas Carol when one of the ghosts shows Scrooge two desperate street kids called Want and Pestilence. And there’s that notorious passage in Bleak House where Dickens yells at the English governing class that if they don’t reform they will bring down on themselves “bloody revolution” and that he will be “the first to applaud.” But there are other ways of doing things and one of the most remarkable qualities of Morojele’s novel is that, despite its urgent and harrowing subject-matter, the narration is so calm and collected.

Three Egg Dilemma is published by the fine South African press Jacana and so should not be too expensive in Lesotho. I do urge all my readers who can to get hold of it. I promise, you won’t regret it, even if it means, following the purchase, a few one-egg meals.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

Chris Dunton

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