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Book Review: Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips

"A thing you must know about the people here in the scheme is that we go to sleep early. If the day goes to sleep, we all sleep and if something interrupts it, people lose their chickens, you know, like in they go bedinges." -Jolyn Phillips, Tjieng Tjang Tjerries

Growing up in a multilingual country has its advantages. Most South Africans are fluent in at least two languages, so it’s not uncommon for people to code-switch in everyday conversation. And it’s not always because you can’t find the English or Afrikaans word for something. No, we simply fuse different languages into one.

In her debut short story collection, Tjieng Tjang Tjerries, and other stories, Jolyn Phillips captures the multilingual heart of average South Africans.

Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories is a whimsical collection of tales set in the fishing villages around Gansbaai, South Africa. Using memorable characters, witty dialog, and a charming background, Jolyn takes the reader on a journey of loss, laughter, and sheer calculated silliness.

I could read Jolyn's writing every day. In a world of dragons, hobbits, and dark lords, it’s refreshing to find tales I can relate to with characters I've seen growing up in Breidbach, King William's Town. While the stories are set in small fishing villages along South Africa's west coast, each brief tale filled me with nostalgia for childhood days spent playing on Uitsig Street until streetlights signaled it was time to go home. A street with nosey neighbors, unfortunate dogs, and the messiness of living in a place where everyone and their cousin know your business.

Jolyn tactfully explores themes of mental illness, secrets, poverty, rape, and molestation with an authenticity that I appreciated. As with most anthologies, some stories were more memorable than others. My favorite stories in this collection were The Photograph, Secrets, The Fire, The Big Box, and The Legend of Tjieng Tjang Tjerries.

Final Thoughts

I believe good writing should invite the reader to visit the locations described in the prose and Jolyn did just that. Her words painted landscapes on the canvas of my imagination. For the brief moments between the pages of Tjieng Tjang Tjerries, I traveled the streets of the small fishing villages on the West Coast.

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