Reaching Discontent: Author Hagler. Publisher Mirador Publishing, London, 2010.
REACHING Discontent is a rip-roaring, blood-soaked adventure story featuring Iron, a Cape Flats English teacher and former professional boxer, who is forced to use his skills to defend his honour, and to face some apartheid government ghosts.
One is called the Minister, an unpleasant piece of work from his past, and chillingly reminiscent of real-life South African security police torturers. The Minister has survived the struggle politically, and is now a player in the drug trade.
Iron falls foul of a dissembling principal and a corrupt school committee member when they try to exonerate a bully called Chohan, who has been selling drugs. Iron sticks to his guns, but when Chohan is killed in the streets of Athlone, Iron’s life changes.
Suspended from his job, under threat from psychotic forces in the drug trade, gang leaders and corrupt politicians, he calls on his best friend Heed, a martial-arts expert, to help him.
The narrative doesn’t let up for a second, and we face a series of well-choreographed fights, rollicking adventure and gripping suspense set in the heart of Cape Town’s Muslim community.
However, if you’re squeamish, some of the fight scenes might make you recoil – it’s not Jackie Chan with a giggle, and if you read Reaching Discontent, you will feel fists and feet thudding into flesh.
But that is to be unfair to the book, for Reaching Discontent is a much more than its street fighting. It’s a well-crafted, lavishly descriptive novel. The author’s depictions of working-class Cape Town from the Bo-Kaap to Belhar provide an evocative backdrop.
Reaching Discontent is unapologetically reflective of its Muslim ethos. For behind all the intrigue, Iron is a believing Muslim. But there’s no ingratiating self-justification. For like Rayda Jacob’s characters in Confessions of a Gambler, Iron is a believable person who has to face his faults and foibles.
His love-interest, Mazida, is a true love-interest, and is not just a one-dimensional bimbo with a doekie. Iron remains celibate in the narrative, and Mazida’s self-assured femininity is a foil to his troubled soul.
If I were to criticise Reaching Discontent, it would be on a technical level. I feel, for example, that the typesetting of the chapter intros is too bland. I was initially confused by some of the transliteration of our Cape Town vernacular, but soon realised that a New Zealand audience (the author now lives there) had to be catered for.
Reaching Discontent is a significant contribution to a growing genre of community based South African literature. It’s a riveting fireside read and young and old should enjoy this promising local work.