Waiting for the Rain dramatizes the disturbing events of South Africa in crisis. Gordon does not show all white people as evil and all black people as good. For example, in the townships, the “tsotsis” are young, lawless black men who rob and kill indiscriminately. Likewise, Frikkie’s uncle, although narrow-minded, is considered a kind boss. Although he may threaten his workers with the sjambok (a metal-tipped whip), he has never used it. The British family for whom Tengo’s aunt works discusses openly the unfair treatment of black people and sends the sons overseas to avoid serving in the army, whose main mission is to keep black people “in their place.” The white minister who helps Tengo study is also sympathetically portrayed.
Yet, it is with the two believable boys, childhood chums who grow and change, that Gordon is at her best. The youngsters race, swim, and play ball together. In one scene in the barn, they furtively drink fresh warm milk from the same cup, laughing at the white mustaches on their faces. Frikkie only superficially notices the differences in their relations; like his uncle, he wants no changes, a situation that the reader finds untenable.
Dialogue sets the tone of inequity. Frikkie is called “Little Master” (Kleinbaas) by the black farm workers, whom he addresses by first name only. Tengo’s grandmother is “Lettie” to him. Oom Koos is “Old Master” (Oubaas). Yet, the oubaas refers to his adult male workers as “boys.” A derogatory term that he uses for the black children is “piccanin.” “Kaffir” is another insulting term for black people. When Tengo informs the oubaas that he wants to study in the city, he is called “cheeky” by Tant Sannie. Language thus emphasizes...
(The entire section is 719 words.)
Waiting for the Rain is one of the few realistic novels available describing accurately the turbulent 1980’s in South Africa. Its riveting story is often used in classes that stress multicultural literature. The Middle of Somewhere: A Story of South Africa (1990) is Sheila Gordon’s other novel set in the same period, but it is written for younger children, omitting the violence found in Waiting for the Rain.
Two similar dramatic accounts are Beverley Naidoo’s Journey to Jo’burg (1985) and its sequel, Chain of Fire (1989), in which Naledi, her brother Tiro, and her friend Taolo are courageous young protesters. Mark Mathabane’s autobiographical Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa (1986) is another gripping account. My Name Is Not Angelica (1989) is Scott O’Dell’s historically accurate treatment of the slave trade along the southeastern coast of Africa in the eighteenth century. Based on historical fact, it makes superb background reading for stories of this troubled land. Lesley Beake’s inspiring Song of Be (1991) is another realistic work in which a young bushwoman tells her own story of freedom turned into terror, of recovery and love in postcolonial Namibia.
Although violence and tragedy are themes in these well-written books, the terror that they portray nevertheless leaves young readers with a feeling of hope because in these works the youthful characters act bravely to bring about change. In Gordon’s compelling novel, Tengo and his cousin Joseph are two of the many youths whose voices, like Be’s, ring true. They will survive as they struggle for peace and understanding.