Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chanda's Secrets - Need a Good Cry?

A good cry is like a summer thunderstorm, clearing out the stickiness of emotions and replacing them with a cool breeze.  Tears that fall because everyday life can scar us with questions and confusion and uncertainties - these tears cleanse and let us recalibrate, reorient, and get back on track.

On a night when no one has emailed me and no one is home to chat, on an evening when my husband must go to bed early to prepare for his early morning job, when suddenly the home I rejoiced in several hours before seems echoing and empty, at times like these doubts and fears come creeping, creeping.

Times like these call for a good cry.  And if YOU need a good cry, read Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton.  Young teen Chanda has the horrible task of hiring an undertaker for her baby sister's funeral.  Her sister's father is off drunk somewhere and her mother must stay home with the younger children, Iris who is five and Solly who is four.  In a South African community where people die of "TB" or "cancer" and where the disease AIDS is not even discussed - where making plans for death is just bringing on bad luck, Chanda and her mother are barely keeping things together.  When Papa and the older boys died in a mine explosion, the family spiraled downward.  They were lucky that a married man hired them, but unlucky when he turned his wandering eyes on Chanda - lucky, when a neighbor couple took them in, luckier still when an old, kindly widower married Mama and left her the house.  Now Sara has died and Mama can't get out of bed and Jonah, the stepfather has left and whispers, whispers, whispers make the whole family outcasts.

Secrets, superstition, unkindness that comes from fear, and a disease that cannot be stopped because no one will admit that it exists add up to the perfect catalyst for a good cry.  The ending is victorious.  Chanda faces her mother's illness and refuses to hide it.  Her busybody neighbor steps up to be a support and a comfort.  And there is hope, hope for change and hope for Chanda.

And you won't just get a good cleansing cry out of this book.  You will get perspective because Chanda's Secrets (watch the book trailer) may be fiction but it is based very firmly in the facts of HIV/AIDS and how ignorance, superstition and fear keep people from dealing with the disease.  And an empty inbox just can't compete with that for sadness.

The book has become a movie, Life, Above All,  and was highly acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

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