The Zebra Affaire by Mark Fine

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 11.48.30 PMIn the best tradition of historical fiction, Fine has woven the story of several intriguing individuals into the larger fabric of a troubled time. In this case, a biracial couple’s story is at the center of late 1970s apartheid South Africa.

Fine has a flair for detailed descriptions, whether it is the local 1976 Formula 1 race or the local record shop. In the latter instance, Rodriguez is tipped to become the most important musical artist in South Africa (although the author and astute readers know the Detroit native was virtually unknown everywhere else for decades).

In order to explain the complicated and often inscrutable laws and customs of the region, Fine uses an alternative to the footnote. He sets out in italics an explanatory paragraph or two in the midst of the narrative. Although this would seem to disrupt the flow, the explanations further explain the context.  Indeed, this technique avoids the dreaded exposition of having the characters explain to each other that which they already know.

Fine shines a light on the pernicious effects of tribalism, which may ultimately cause more damage across the African continent than colonialism.

The lovers at the story’s center do not move through Johannesburg in isolation; the supporting cast of characters range from a nightclub singer to the head of a large record company. Whether describing the region’s introduction of the 45 RPM single or the horrific conditions in the mines, the author’s descriptions remain compelling.

Fine’s first novel brings his experience of growing up in South Africa to the page with clarity and conviction.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.