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Call and Response

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Member Reviews

This collection of short stories transports the reader to Botswana where natives are introduced and a glimpse is provided into their lives as they experience love, loss, the pressures of societal expectations. The stories are wonderfully written. I look forward to more offerings from this author. Thank you to Penguin Group Viking and Net Galley for the opportunity to review this DRC.

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Call and Response is a wonderful collection of stories, thought provoking and well written. I was fully immersed in each and every story, none felt stagnant. The writing was a gem to read, at times poetic.

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I really wanted to love this one, but unfortunately it just didn’t do it for me. I had trouble staying interested. Even though these were short stories, none of them really kept my attention.

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“Call and Response” is a striking short story collection. Written lyrically, the nine stories some of which are lengthy embrace the paradox young Botswanan women face in a modern world. How cultural traditions can be messy and lonely. How the expectation to flourish in careers is often mired in setbacks. How the modern way of disciplining children is less about punishment and more about tolerance. Set in the Botswanan urban village of Serowe, and the capital city of Gaborone the stories are written by a talented social interpreter, a young Botswanan named Gothataone Moeng who has an acute understanding of belonging to multiple worlds.

The nuances of identity particularly when faced with unbearable pain anchors the story “Small Wonders.” A widow for a year and grieving in public,Phetso has obeyed ancestral custom and worn the same three mourning clothes: a cape, headscarf, and dress. Now that the year is over the ceremonial undressing is something she cannot avoid, a ritual to help both families turn the page on bereavement, but Phetso is reluctant. She had embraced the cultural boundaries of widows with aplomb; it was self-therapy that gave her a sense of belonging, social hierarchy and in many ways she was erased. The expectation after the undressing is to return to self and be who she once was. Marry again. But that is the conundrum because how can she possibly step over one boundary and celebrate another? How can she reclaim her identity as a young woman searching for love as if trauma had never happened?

In “Dark Matter” younger sister Onthatile asks older sister Nametso “will we survive these white children?” By white she means privileged. Onthatile’s daughter is defiant and spoiled. Nametso who has returned to Gaborone from the United States where she lived for a decade but couldn’t sell her novel, and subsequently became anxious and desperate and poor, now chauffeurs Sethunya from school to swim practice and she is lonely. Still struggling to make her novel readable, Nametso needs a job to reimburse her sister for the plane ticket home. She fears being a burden.

Daughtering can be fraught and anxious particularly when mothers age and there is neurological loss. An emotional story titled “Homing" is about obligation. Three half-sisters, Sedilame, Boitumelo, and Lebogang, are meeting to discuss what to do with their mother. Lebogang is the instigator for the family meeting after a kitchen mishap- a blackened pot nearly melted- courtesy of her mother. After Lebogang hears her mother and her son Leruo talking, her mother speaking of her dead husband in the present tense, Lebogang has had it. Something must be done. “We are women now” Lebogang says trying to bully her sisters into action “We do not need a prophet to reveal to us that the woman in there, who raised us, is no longer the woman she used to be.

This is a collection for women and about women. But the nine stories are also a postcard, a gratitude note to Botswana for its lovely grace.

Outside the sky was a vast blue dome, steadfast and distant, enshrouding the whole ward, the whole village. Wisps of white clouds trailed the sky’s surface. (“Botalaote”)

It was September and the dust winds had finally swept in, dislodging the tail end of a long winter. A gust of wind buoyed a flurry of dust upward and skittered a Coke can against the paved parking light. The leaves from the acacia tree fell intermittently…( “Small Wonders”)

Gothatone Moeng’s talent as a writer is that she doesn’t settle for the easy narrative. Her characters are complicated and layered and she writes with empathy, making us care about women who live in a part of the world that gets little attention. Botswana is a sparsely populated country, yet the vulnerability of Moeng’s characters strike a resonant chord of shared experience, reminding the reader women are women all over the globe.

“Call and Response” is truly enriching. Before reading I asked myself what exactly lies beneath a quiet country that is rarely held up to the light? The answer was quickly answered. Love and family, tradition, and expectation. And reflection. Gotathone Moeng’s stories about the sacred and the brave are a profound literary experience.

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One thing that really stood out to me in this book was how rich these stories were; as a reader, you get to know a lot about Botswana and the Batswana people, as well as their culture, history, politics, and way of life. I ended the book feeling much more educated on a place I barely knew anything about when I started the book. Moeng gives us so much insight and knowledge on the Batswana culture.

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Imbued with emotion and reflection, Call and Response will supply readers with a front-row seat into Batswana life. In 9 beautifully written, self-revelatory stories, we experience the inner turmoil and contradictions of embracing cultural traditions in post-colonial Botswana, inevitable shifts and changes in shared bonds between people, coming of age, navigating familial expectations, and the all too familiar event and memories of homecoming.

Be prepared to traverse around cities of Botswana, and witness the characters’ revelations of themselves as they answer their call.

I recommend this short story collection and rate it a 3.25. The writing is poignant and thought-provoking. That is what I most enjoyed about it. Despite my enjoyment of Moeng’s writing, the pacing of the stories did not compel me to reach for the book as much as I expected to. It would have been a perfect fit for me if the calling were stronger.

I suggest this book to readers who are seeking a slower-paced collection of stories, centered around mostly female characters.

Many thanks to Viking, Gothataone Moeng, and NetGalley for an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. My review/reaction is voluntary, all thoughts are mine and unbiased, and receiving the Advanced Review Copy does not influence my rating and/or recommendation.

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If you read to explore the world and tangentially experience life through another's perceptions, you will find much to love in Moeng's collection of 9 short stories. These stories tell about the lives and challenges girls and women face in contemporary Botswana. At the same time, they bring forth universal themes of changing cultural norms, finding a balance between autonomy and family responsibilities, and what it means to love. Each story made me stop and think. Each story made me feel a deeper connection to global womanhood. Each story helped me understand the unique cultures that contribute to Botswana as a whole. That's why I read.

NetGalley provided me with an electronic ARC in exchange for a review.

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Call and Response by Gothataone Moeng is a collection of 9 short stories that is set in Botswana. Each short story is vastly different but have an intertwined theme of "home". Some characters are returning home while others are longing for home. Some find home in loved ones or have comfort of home from their village. Each story shares traditions and culture along with views of the evolving country.
My two favorite short stories in the collection were Botalaote and Early Life and Education. Botalaote is about a young widow who observes the traditionally customs of mourning. She is troubled with returning to a "normal life" after mourning. Early Life and Education starts out showing the delicate relationship between Lerako and his grandmother. They are both each others world and are joint at the hip. The story follows Lerako into adulthood and depicts the shift in beliefs, religion, and manhood.
Over all I enjoyed each story and appreciated the viewpoint of characters living life in Botswana. Thank you to the author for an early release copy for an exchange of my honest review/ opinion of the book. I look forward to future books from the author

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Call and Response by Gothataone Moeng is a collection of nine short stories set in the village of Serowe where the author is from in Botswana. Moeng manages to show readers the complexities existent in the lives of the women from her village from multiple perspectives and vantage points. Each story is unique and stands on its own while also sharing important aspects of culture, tradition, and folklore from the city of Gaborone.

While I enjoyed each story for different reasons, I was struck by Early Life and Education which tells the story of a young boy, Lerako, who is raised by his grandmother after his neglectful mother remarries and leaves him to her care. Eventually his grandmother passes away and he is left within the care of an uncle resulting in a major shift in his development. This story did an impactful job of critiquing the coming of age experience of boys in the culture and also provided more cultural context for some of the pressures boys are expected to manage and endure before they've fully matured. In many ways I found this story to anchor the others that centered the experiences of women navigating their own oppression due to very specific gender roles in society.

This was a powerful debut that I will surely read again! Thank you to the author and publisher for the e-arc copy!

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Call and Response is a powerful debut novel that takes readers through the intricate, delicate, and complicated relationships of family dynamics. The stories presented explore grief, forgiveness, and redemption. It is vibrant with depictions of language, traditions, and the social scene in Botswana. I particularly enjoyed how detailed each of the character’s stories are written. Call and Response offers an enriching experience to Moeng’s literary work. Can’t wait to read more.

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These are powerful, precise stories, set in Botswana. The collection is well-named, because there are multiple call and response rhythms running throughout all the stories--between the narrators and their past selves, between Serowe and much larger Gaborone and between Botswana and America, between traditional patterns and modern ones, and finally between the narrators and the reader, who is often asked to "answer" the story to fill in its gaps and assess its meaning as the narrators themselves are still figuring it all out. The stories are realistic, but often feature narrators who are as uncertain of where the story is headed as the reader is; the results are often surprising but feel inevitable. They are the kinds of stories which echo in the reader for days, rumbling and bumping around, as the full depth comes only gradually to the surface--I found I had to space them out while reading, so they had room to expand.

My favorite story was the story of the young widow who is avoiding her family because it is time to part with her dead husband's clothes and remove her own traditional mourning outfit (clothing that many are uncomfortable with her wearing in the first place) because even the rituals are not providing a framework for her grief. But all of these stories are interesting, carefully described, and memorable. I highly recommend them.

Thanks to the publisher, author, and Netgalley for the EARC I received in return for an honest review.

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