Terry-Ann Adams’ debut novel ‘Those Who Live In Cages’ (Jacana Media) is an ambitious effort that aims to shine a light on the struggles within the coloured community.
By: Musa ‘Gift’ Mqwashu
Terry-Ann’s novel ‘Those Who Live In Cages’ has received staggering applause for raising the mirror and reflecting modern-day South Africa as we have never seen before.
Like its powerful title, Those Who Live In Cages is a glance at the social history of the infamously crime-ridden Eldorado Park (Eldos), Johannesburg. The author was born-and-raised in Eldos and in the book shares an intimate first-hand experience of life as a coloured person in South Africa.
She invites us inside the lives of five women who are trapped in cages and forced to circumvent daily oppressions like patriarchy, township violence, and classism.
“I saw my characters living in several cages all at once. I wanted to write a book about the different ways in which we are affected as women,” she tells Blacklight during a Zoom interview.
“What you get inside this book is a sense of life in Eldorado Park. You read about what it’s like to be a colored woman in a lower middle class and how patriarchy affects your life.”
Terry-Ann’s debut is layered with themes that unpack society’s ailments, bringing forth thought-provoking discussions around socio-economic difficulties, class limitations, and homophobia.“I come from a very working-class family, I grew up in a church, and I know all about religion. I am also a woman, so I understand patriarchy affects us deeply as women.”
Terry’-Ann’s appetite for words started at the tender age of six. She reveals that her fondest childhood memories are being surrounded by books and avid readers. “I come from a family of storytellers,” she shares.
“Words were everything to me. I come from an Afrikaans coloured family but my granddad would always have this insistence on English.”
Writing never came as an escape for Terry, but as a medium in which she can fight the demons of life. “I will always use writing as a way to confront what I am going through. If I put it down on a page, it becomes tangible, and I can begin to speak about it,” she says.
This is the reason why she does not write about albinism in a fictional setting, “I rarely write about albinism because it is one of those things that when I am ready to fight, I will put it on paper and confront it head-on.”
However, living with albinism played a great role in shaping her into a storyteller and a fiction writer. “Because I was not playing outside due to my condition, I had no friends. I had to create an imaginary world with my toys, and that was the start of my dabbling with fiction.”
The albinism community is seldom represented in mainstream media and in society. Terry’s work is integral and adds an important fixture in the local literary scene.
“My work tells those growing up with albinism that they can be whoever they want to be. They do not have to conform to the societal standards of beauty; their experiences are valid and can be written down and shared with the world.”
She adds: “I write for people to see that it is not my disability that is the problem; it is their outlook that is the problem.
“Society wants to teach disabled people confidence, when in fact, it is the society that needs to learn how to orientate itself towards the disabled community.”
She recounts the psychological effects meted by society to those living with disabilities. “It is very traumatic. It’s the everyday exclusion from society; the looks and stares that give you anxiety.”
“I have not yet overcome that alienation. Everyone expects people with disabilities to overcome, I did not. I am still in therapy.”
Instead of focusing on fighting against discrimination, she made a conscious decision; to embark on her self-healing journey, which has taught her to live more in the moment.
The author shares that mental health is equally important as physical health, “I take the education around mental wellness extremely serious.”
In Those Who Live In Cages, my character Janice has a general anxiety disorder, and it is very debilitating for her; I wanted to shine a light on that.”
With the shift to the digital era, print and publishing have taken a huge knock. However, Terry believes that the working class is still active readers and appreciate books and literature. “The only reason they are not [trending] is that very few take pictures and post about books on social media,” she explains.
To help with the plight of the lack of access to local books and literature, Terry donated her books to the community libraries in Eldos.“I want to give the next generation a chance I never had; to have a book that is set where they are from,” she adds.
The newly published author says she has been overwhelmed by the incredible reception for her first book. “I still cannot believe how people from all races, classes, and creeds are relating to this book.”
She concludes: “I want my work to add to the colored canon of literature. I find it very important that we canonise ourselves as coloured people and create work that the future generation can use as a reference.”
Those Who Live In Cages is available at all leading bookstores and online.
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