This Thing Called the Future by J.L. Powers is the story of Koshi, a young black South African trying to reconcile and combine the two important halves of her self and her world — both the modern and scientific world that brought biology and Christianity into her life, and the old culture of the Zulu people, believing in the spirits of the ancestors, witches and herbal muthi (medicine).
I admit to knowing very little about African culture so I can't say how accurate this book was in its portrayal, but factual or not, the struggles that Koshi faced, trying to reconcile the two halves of her personal belief system as well as the difference of opinion between her 'superstitious' and traditional grandmother and her mother's more modern beliefs in science. It's hard for her to be faced with both these belief systems, especially because everyone expects her to pick one side, and one side only, but Koshi feels strongly about both halves, both sides. She makes an observation, more than once throughout the story that I thought was very insightful. Whether you belief in spirits, a higher power, or nothing at all, I do agree with the observation that no matter how much science we learn, no matter how much we know, there are still things left unexplained.
Perhaps this is because we have simply not discovered what the explanation is yet, or perhaps it is something that we will never know. But there are gaps in our understanding. These gaps are even broader for Koshi because she does see herself as being closer to the spirits and she does believe in them, strongly. But, she also believes in God and Jesus Christ. I was actually really surprised at how much a role God and religion played in the book. There is the side by side comparison of both the scientific medicine vs. the traditional healers, but there is also the comparison of Christianity (Catholic, I believe specifically) and the ancient beliefs in the spirits of the ancestors. It was interesting, seeing these two very different belief systems compared, and although there were very definitely things that I don't agree with, it gave me a lot to think about.
But, with all this being said, I am still not quite sure how I felt about the book in general. It's well written, the pacing is good and the book never felt dull or dragged, but for some reason it's not terribly... compelling for me. I don't know if this is because there is just absolutely nothing in this book that mirrors my own life, so I can't draw any personal connection to it, or if it's just a matter of the writing style not reaching me. It's not a bad book by any means, but neither is it a book that I'm going to find myself recommending wildly. There is a market for this book, and I have a feeling that there will be some people who really just love it. And that makes me happy. But, even though it wasn't a book that I connected to as much as I might have like, it is a book that will stick with me for a while, because it gives you a lot to think about, (culture, racism, habitual poverty, AIDS, dependency, ancient and outdated? traditions, double standards, etc).
If you are at all connected to or interested in South African traditions and culture, this might be a great book to pick up. Although, if you have read it, and you know more about South African history and tradition than I, I'd love to hear about whether or not the author does a good job with her representation!
(Also — The book does talk about AIDS heavily. Koshi attends church one week and remarks that every single person there has someone close to them who has died, or is dying from AIDS. This seriously broke my heart.)