A Hibiscus Coast
by Nick Mulgrew
In these turbulent South African times of violence and disquiet, many conversations have turned to emigration. In that context I found A Hibiscus Coast to be an honest, compelling and soothing look at family, migration and dispossession.
The author takes us to Durban North, 1997, where a suburban murder rocks a community, and drives one of its members to act upon a long held emigration strategy.
As in real life, nothing about emigration is simple. The characters are layered with different life events, losses and biases, and so we begin to see the messy, difficult, courageous and conflicted process unfold.
The main character, nineteen year old Mary, has to leave Durban ahead of her parents and is forced to make a new life for herself, within a South African ex-pat community in New Zealand.
Parallel to Mary’s story, we meet Buck, a self appointed Maori leader, who is fighting to have a disused school granted to his people as a Marae, which is a cultural and spiritual place of meeting in Polynesian societies.
The South African ex-pat community, however, has their eye on the same establishment for their own South African Club.
(A place where you would find ‘the dunes of cheese Nik-Naks that glowed like fool’s gold’)
I loved how the author articulates the narrative of white South African culture in the nineties, and the way some South African emigrants react, speak and behave.
Author, Nick Mulgrew weaves and layers the stories of the Maoris and the South African club, alongside Mary’s story of migration and loss with great skill. I was immersed in Mary’s search for her place in a new world, and her search for peace and closure in the one she left behind. The careless behaviour of some of those emigrants who, although delighted to be out of South Africa, brought their old attitudes with them to New Zealand, reminded me of the careless people in The Great Gatsby.
At the same time, I ached for the emigrants whose difficulties in a new country become almost unbearable. Meanwhile, Buck Cooper struggles to find a place for a marae in his own land, a problem not dissimilar to South Africa, but not one that these South African emigrants ever had to face back home.
The story leads us to a point where Mary and Buck’s worlds look like they are heading to hopelessness, but then they intersect.
A Hibiscus Coast is an intelligent reflection on different cultures, on trying to fit in, and on South African nineties culture. The author is able to articulate multiple aspects of South African culture with great skill, from the way they speak to one another to their reflections on the New Zealand Cavaliers Tour.
I was also drawn in by his portrayal of Maori culture and the challenges these first nation people have faced. Mulgrew gives us a glimpse into the Maori perspective of white South African immigration to New Zealand through Buck’s eyes.
In conclusion, A Hibiscus Coast is a beautifully written, intelligent and heartwarming read, not to be missed.