The Reactive

The Reactive


From the winner of the PEN International New Voices Award comes the story of Lindanathi, a young HIV+ man grappling with the death of his brother, for which he feels unduly responsible. He and his friends—Cecelia and Ruan—work low-paying jobs and sell anti-retroviral drugs (during the period in South Africa before ARVs became broadly distributed). In between, they huff glue, drift through parties, and traverse the streets of Cape Town where they observe the grave material disparities of their country.

A mysterious masked man appears seeking to buy their surplus of ARVs, an offer that would present the friends with the opportunity to escape their environs, while at the same time forcing Lindanathi to confront his path, and finally, his past.

With brilliant, shimmering prose, Ntshanga has delivered a redemptive, ambitious, and unforgettable first novel.  (Summary and cover courtesy of

Please note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review courtesy of the publisher.


I really wanted to like this one because when I picked it up I heard a lot of “I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s really interesting so far!”  I think I should have taken more note of the fact that no one had finished it as a warning.

I honestly found this book depressing, disconnected and disjointed.  Three-quarters of the story consists of drug-induced hazes and poor decision-making followed up with a hasty bow tied off to wrap up the story.  I can’t say I have a solid understanding of much of what happened in the story or of what the message was supposed to be.  It is also never a good sign when a character is re-introduced and you try to flip back to figure out “Who was that again?”  It was only be sheer stubbornness that I insisted on finishing the read.

We never got to know the characters, the motivations or their complexities.  We never got a chance to understand why Lindi was set on making the decisions he did or if he ever came to terms with the actions he took.  The end doesn’t sync up with the rest of the story although it does line up with a big historical event I would have thought might have had a bigger impact.  In the end, I had very high hopes, but it just fell short for me.

Warning: Contains repeatead drug use, sexual content and violence.

Rating: 1 stars!

Who should read it? I can’t honestly recommend this one, but I am sure there are those who would.