SA tale decades in the making finally being told in new book ‘Suitcase of Memory’
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A riveting story that has been a decade and a half in the making is finally ready to hit South African bookshelves.
And A’Eysha Kassiem, the author of Suitcase of Memory, a love story that centres around Hyperthymesia, an ability that allows people to remember nearly every event of their life with great precision, is thrilled that this story is finally being told.
“It took me 15 years to write it, so it has been living in my head and heart for the longest time and now it’s finally out there.
“It feels a little surreal, to be honest, but it’s also an exhilarating and daunting feeling, all at once,” Kassiem told The Saturday Star this week.
The South African journalist who has been the news editor at both the Cape Times and News24, editor of Fin24 well as the international publication, PrintWeek, believes that her vast writing experience adequately equipped her for this project.
She explained that Suitcase of Memory was set in a time that she had not actually been a part of, so in order to bring authenticity to the story, she went back to her roots.
“I knew that the kind of colour that I needed to bring it to life was never going to come from a history textbook, so instead, I did what journalists do when we need a better idea of what’s going on – we turn to other journalists.”
In a bid to put the book together, she spent time at the SA National Archives reading old newspapers and analysing stories with a “journalist’s eye.”
“I thought about things like why something was on page 1 and something else on page 10, why some stories had photographs and others didn’t, why some were above the fold and others below, why some were on the right hand side and others on the left.
“It really allowed me to build a believable world in my head that my characters could inhabit.”
While this took up much of her time, the young mother’s intention to write this book began much earlier in her life.
“I first started writing it as a student when I was living and studying in the Netherlands at the time.”
She did so at first as a way to feel at home in a foreign country, far away from her loved ones.
“It was my first time away from home and it was very hard to be away from my family and my community and I realised for the first time that I had no idea who I was without the safety of home and struggled a lot with my identity and what it means to be a black Muslim woman in the world today.
“The idea for the book was sparked by that journey – both the journey away from home and the one I had to take within myself.”
Over the years, even after she returned to South Africa and started her own family, Kassiem continued writing Suitcase of Memory, which revolves around Bastian Bredenkamp, the main character who has Hyperthymesia.
Even though he is dead, Bredenkamp, who is the narrator of the story, weaves together the extraordinary tale of his life from his grave.
It tells the tale of Bastian, the only heir to the Goedleven farm, who suffers from a rare condition that allows him to remember everything that has ever happened to him.
When Khadeejathree comes to work for the family, Bastian is introduced to her daughter Rashieda, and a world he’d been sheltered from, but to love Rashieda, means telling his secret: he is not who he appears to be.
Kassiem believes that the book is also a story of defiance.
“Suitcase of Memory deals with themes of identity, the power of the untold story and memory – and not just the kind of memory that relates to the everyday moments, but more specifically the kind that is inherited from others and the generations who came before,” she explained.
“The narrator, Bastian Bredenkamp, is dead, but the power of his untold story finally pushes him to tell it, even if it is from the grave.”
Kassiem believes that South Africans will be able to resonate with Suitcase of Memory because of the many untold stories in the country.
“As South Africans, I think there are millions of untold stories related to our past; the things we share over Sunday lunches and Iftar dinner tables and pass down to our children and grandchildren.
“I would see it often in my work as a journalist, where no matter who I interviewed, people would always reflect on the past and how it had changed the course of their destiny; the ways it had altered the story of who they might have been.”
“Like a suitcase, we carry a lot of that around with us but, like Bastian, we bury it and seldom talk about our untold stories as a collective or as a nation.”
Suitcase of Memory retails for R270 nationwide.
For more information, follow Kassiem on Instagram.