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Hum If You Don't Know the Words

Length: 14 hrs and 25 mins
Categories: Fiction, Historical
4.5 out of 5 stars (183 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Perfect for fans of The Secret Life of Bees and The Help, a perceptive and searing look at Apartheid-era South Africa, told through one unique family brought together by tragedy.

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a 10-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred...until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin's parents are left dead and Beauty's daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty's and Robin's alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum If You Don't Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

©2017 Bianca Marais (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Radiant...a stirring ode to a country’s painful maturation.” (O, The Oprah Magazine)

“Richly drawn...[The characters’] journeys and eventual love poignantly demonstrate that nothing is simply black or white.” (USA Today)

“In this standout debut Marais handles topics such as grief and racism with a delicate intensity that will make readers fall in love with her characters. From the first few heartfelt chapters to a fast-paced and heart-wrenching ending, Marais has created a stunning historical drama that shouldn’t be missed.” (Publishers Weekly

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Two narrators make for a great listen

Great audiobook, using two different narrators to represent the two main characters. Being able to hear the story in the alternating voices of the Black African mother, Beauty, who is searching for her daughter, and that of the White African girl, Robin, who has lost her family, made this an extra-special experience. The ending was perfect. I look forward to the next book written by Bianca Marais.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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It is just a bit not believable

The story starts fine. Beauty's story is believable but as far as Robin, the 10 year old, she just has thoughts and does things that an adult reader will find hard to buy into. It seems like it is more an adventure/spy novel for a tween/teen than a serious adult novel about apartheid.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Heartbreakingly beautiful

This book, is a true MUST READ!
It is an original story that paints vivid pictures and forces you to question your own integrity towards people of color.

I love, love, love this book.

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EXTRAORDINARY!

This book is a wonderful story about a very disturbing subject. The narrators were spectacular. When the character of Beauty tries to explain her grief over losing her husband to 10 year old Robin, her explanation was so insightful, and touched so closely upon my own grief experience over losing my own husband, that I re-listened and transcribed it so I could easily read it at any time. I have read a lot about grief, but Beauty summed it up like no one else I have heard yet. The ending told the reader they would be hearing more about the characters, so I am anxiously awaiting the sequel.

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Spectacular, superb, beautiful...

As a bereaved mother this book wrapped itself around my soul like a warm embrace. The way the author portrays grief is like none other, she was able to put into words the deepest emotions that I cannot find them for. The girl in the story reminded me of myself at that age, discovering racism as I morphed into the real world from my shelted imaginary one of teddy bears and tea parties. This is the best book so far on Audible that I'vve purchased. It's one of those books you feel something in your world has shifted when you finish it .

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Hum

Deeply moving story of life under apartheid, and a brave young girl’s coming of age.

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  • Med
  • Milwaukee
  • 03-20-18

An Outstanding Experience

I think readers will be surprised by this wonderful book. Written from the vantage of a young girl and a South African woman, you'll be surprised by how their relationship evolves during apartheid. You'll enjoy the audio experience for the rich performances of the two narrators. I highly recommend this book however you choose to experience this work.

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Magnificent book about the country I love.

Coming from South Africa, I truly loved and appreciated this wonderful story, which touched my heart and brought back both beautiful and painful memories. While this book highlights the racial discrimination, anti-Semitism and prejudice towards homosexuality that was part of those times, it also highlights the force and power of love that crossed those lines. I enjoyed getting to know all the characters, and it is hard to say goodbye to them. This book brought me to both laughter and tears. Thank you for this fantastic story about our beautiful rainbow nation. I can only hope for a sequel.

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Powerful and moving

What did you love best about Hum If You Don't Know the Words?

Everything. This book made me laugh and cry and get angry and rejoice. I wished it would never end.

What does Katharine McEwan and Bahni Turpin bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The book takes place in South Africa so the accents are extremely important ~ and the narrators nailed it! So fun to listen to the different accents of the many characters. They were both phenomenal.

Who was the most memorable character of Hum If You Don't Know the Words and why?

All of them, You wanted to know them better. From the key players to the smaller characters. They all added something to the story.

Any additional comments?

This book was my favorite yet. Of the 57 books in my collection thus far, this is the one that I will recommend over and over. It was truly moving, yet fun and uplifting.

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  • Millie
  • Helotes, TX, United States
  • 11-24-17

So, so

Not enough substance and many unbelievable situations and dialogues from a ten year old child. Just an ok story.

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  • Cedric
  • 08-28-17

Astonishing

This book is captivating and tells a very gripping story about SA's troubled past and what is still struggles with in the present!

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  • LJ Nurse
  • 03-02-19

Fabulous

Amazing read, from a place and era I grew up in. It made me reflect on my life and upbringing. Really looking forward to the next one.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mari
  • 06-14-19

Fantastic

Wonderful story of a young white girl and a black woman whose lives become entwined after the Soweto riots of the 1970s. Both narrators do a great job of bringing the main characters to life. I laughed and cried and fell in love with both characters. Highly recommend and keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel. 😊