Book Review // Room 207 // Kgebetli Moele

“This room is our safe haven during the lighted dark night of dream city.”

Sometime last year, a colleague of mine recommended that I read this book about a group of guys sharing a room together in downtown Johannesburg (Hillbrow), and the many things that you can expect to happen in this kind of set up. The recommendation came after I’d told her about my own living situation; sharing a room with three guys and how there is never a dull moment in room 1505 – my room – which happens to be in the same neighbourhood where Room 207′ is set.
Recently, I finally found the Kgebetli Moele novel and booked out a whole weekend to read through it cover to cover; moving into Room 207′ with its nameless narrator and his five roommates: Matome, D’Nice, Molamo, Modishi and S’busiso – aka, “Zulu-boy”. Naturally, because of the parallels between this novel and my current reality, my first mission while reading the book was to find a character that I could relate to. And the closest I came to recognising myself in the story was in Matome, the narrator’s (seemingly) closest ally in their “locker room away from home”.

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Hillbrow (where the story takes place) is a neighbourhood right in the heart of Johannesburg city, infamous for its inhabitancy of foreigners, a culture of night life, drugs, prostitution, violence and crime – I know, I need to move out ASAP. From the opening chapter you can tell that living here, for this group of friends-turned-family is a temporary set up and everyone is looking for an escape door leading to their much-talked about out-of-Hillbrow” party.

They all arrived in Johannesburg to pursue studies and chase their dreams, and now we meet them at a time when their initial plans are derailed, life continues to happen and every man is trying to survive in a city that part feels like home and part like a jungle.

The narration of this story is very localised and by that I mean the tone, the colloquialism, the references – all of it is true to the setting of the novel. Here, you’ll find words like “isando” and “lekwerekwere” – but not to worry if you don’t know what any of that means, there’s a glossary at the back to look up on.

“We once drank R4 200 on  the weekend of the nineteenth of August in ’96, a 207 record, and we didn’t have any money before we started drinking.”

I bet you’re expecting a few lustful scenes, scandalous confessions (and secrets) and typical male stubbornness, well, our boys don’t disappoint. Without giving away too much, in the case of ‘Room 207’, boys will be boys.

You can also look forward to eye-opening debates about life, love and politics – some of which turn into personal attacks and others actually offer some solutions to these social ills. Things take a different turn in the book when the roommates start to leave their “safe haven”, one by one. Suddenly the brotherhood is tested and, well, life happens.

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The book definitely came at the right time for me and I enjoyed the read. Not so much the last chapter though which, as a dream chaser myself, hit close to home in being tested about whether of not to ever give up. Have a read, you’ll see what I mean.

‘Room 207’ is a novel by Kgebetli Moele, published by Kwela Books (2006).

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