A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland

My grateful thanks to Grace Pilkington for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland. I’m delighted to close the tour with my review of A Sin of Omission today.

Published in the UK by Envelope on 18th November 2021, A Sin of Omission is available for purchase through the links here.

A Sin of Omission

Torn from his parents as a small child in the 1870s, Stephen Mzamane is picked by the Anglican church to train at the Missionary College in Canterbury and then returned to southern Africa’s Cape Colony to be a preacher.

He is a brilliant success, but troubles stalk him: his unresolved relationship with his family and people, the condescension of church leaders towards their own native pastors, and That Woman-seen once in a photograph and never forgotten.

And now he has to find his mother and take her a message that will break her heart.

In this raw and compelling story, Marguerite Poland employs her considerable experience as a writer and specialist in South African languages to recreate the polarised, duplicitous world of Victorian colonialism and its betrayal of the very people it claimed to be enlightening.

My Review of A Sin of Omission

Stephen Mzamane’s life isn’t quite what he’d hoped.

A Sin of Omission is, quite simply, a remarkable book. I’m not sure that I enjoyed reading it, because, despite its historical setting it felt too raw, only too familiar in a world supposedly now more enlightened, and so emotionally charged that it was a book that consumed and affected me as much as it entertained.

Inspired by a real-life person, Marguerite Poland’s depth of research, the beauty and variety of her writing, and her complete understanding of the human condition so sensitively portrayed here is amazing. A Sin of Omission is a feast for the senses and the writing is intense. I found the smatterings of local language added both to the authenticity of the narrative and the sense of place as well as to my feeling of otherness so that I experienced some of Stephen’s emotions with him.

Stephen is a complex character who touches the reader entirely. A man more sinned against than sinning he is not himself blameless so that he feels fully rounded and realistic.

Beautiful, affecting and assiduously researched writing aside, with powerfully depicted characters, A Sin of Omission is so impactful because of the themes Marguerite Poland explores. Our identity, race, sense of belonging and isolation, duty and belief, selfishness and generosity, all layer the textures of the narrative

I found A Sin of Omission a difficult book to read. It caused me to rage at the establishment of the late 1800s, to realise we are not so far advanced now as we might like to believe, and to grieve for a man displaced by his own existence; by his own sins of omission as well as those of others.  A Sin of Omission is a book I won’t forget in a hurry.

About Marguerite Poland

Marguerite Poland (born 1950 in Johannesburg and brought up in the Eastern Cape) is a celebrated South African writer of books for adults and children. She studied Social Anthropology and Xhosa, took a master’s in Zulu literature and folktales, and was awarded a doctorate for her study of the cattle of the Zulus. Two of her books won South Africa’s Percy FitzPatrick Award. The Train to Doringbult was short listed for the CNA Awards. Shades has been a matriculation set text for over ten years. The Keeper received the 2015 Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award as the title South African booksellers most enjoyed reading, selling and promoting the previous year. Translated into several languages but still largely unknown in the UK, the author won South Africa’s highest civic award in 2016 for her contribution to the field of indigenous languages, literature and anthropology.

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