Praise Song

by Jenny Robson. Tafelberg Publishers 2006

December 1st is World AIDS Day. It is on that day that the crime occurs in the narrative told by South African writer Jenny Robson. Praise Song is based on a true story and dedicated to Ms. Gugu Dlamini, who was the inspiration for the tender choir mistress, Miss Thozama Diko.

The community of Mariting, a little town in South Africa, has celebrated World AIDS Day. One week later, Miss Diko, the young choir mistress is found murdered, among weeds and rocks outside the local community. Why? No one discusses the motive for this murder, although it is understood by all. Miss Diko had used the day of commemoration to make a confession that shocked the community. She explained what causes AIDS, and revealed that she herself was infected with the AIDS virus.

[lt] Sixteen-year-old Gaone searches for the truth, as Robson interweaves the stories of Miss Diko, Gaone, and that of Gaone’s beautiful sister, Precious. The siblings are members of the Meriting youth choir, preparing for a major provincial competition. Both are orphans, growing up with their aunt, a heartless woman who is trying to keep the virus from entering their community. The nightly choir practices continue, despite the death of Miss Diko. Gaone, panicked by all she has read about the virus, is desperately worried, because her younger sister, Precious, is careless, and lives life as though her actions have no consequences. She is attracted to the charming bass singer, Ebenezer, whose reputation is far from savoury. There are rumours of a relationship between him and an older woman, a truck-driver’s wife. Will Gaone be able keep her sister safe? Precious does not appreciate Gaone’s efforts to protect her. As far as she’s concerned, Gaone is over-reacting, and is intent on spoiling her budding romance. Besides, Gaone herself has her eye on one of the tenors in the choir, so who is she to preach to Precious? Later on in the book, Precious will learn that their mother has died of AIDS, even as Gaone’s greatest fear is that her irresponsible younger sister will contract the virus too. By discovering, bit by bit, the actions and reactions of the people involved in Miss Diko’s final days, Gaone uncovers how the murder happened, and who did it.

Praise Song is an impassioned plea for tolerance and an end to the stigma against those who are living with AIDS. At the same time, the author tells a gripping and complex story.