Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Book Review: Ouma Ruby's Secret ( Sephiri sa ga Nkoko Ruby)

Cover of Ouma Ruby's Secret
Originally uploaded by damariasenne
Author: Chris Van Wyk

Illustrated by: Anneliese Voigt-Peters

Published by: Giraffe Books, Pan Macmillan South Africa

Published: 2006

ISBN: 1-920016-47-3

Availability:Pan Macmillan at or

I first met Johannesburg-based author Chris Van Wyk and grew to admire his writing in the early 1990’s, during my short stint working for the now-defunct Upbeat magazine. Since then, I’ve made it a point to read some of his works, and his books never disappoint.

According to the first page of the book, the story narrated in Ouma Ruby’s Secret is true and it’s about Chris and his grandmother Ruby.

One day, Ouma Ruby asked Chris to meet him in town. She wouldn’t tell him the reasons why. “You’ll see,” she said.

Over the course of the book, readers get a glimpse of Chris’s early years, and some of lessons he learnt from his grandmother that shaped him. They also learn about the wonderful surprise Ouma Ruby had for him.

I can only marvel at how blessed Chris was to have a grandmother like Ruby. She understood him very well, giving him a gift that shows love and understanding of who he is, rather than going for the easy choices. Not that they had money to blow either!

The book also has a surprise ending, as Ouma Ruby is keeping a big secret which lends the story a strong poignancy. If you want to teach your child some values about gift-giving during Christmas and birthdays, this book is you.

For Batswana people though, I recommend that they stick to the English edition of the book.

I found the translated edition, Sephiri sa ga Nkoko Ruby very annoying, primarily because there was a mix-up of languages in it. I suspect the translator also speaks Sesotho, which is similar in Setswana in many ways.

There was also a tendency to write some words the way they are pronounced (shortened or with an apostrophe), rather than writing them out properly. For example, “cry” is not “lla”, even though it sounds like that. It’s “lela.”

I ended up going through the book with a pen, marking the words that were distracting me from the story, so I could move on with my reading:-).

Here are some of the words I marked, with their Setswana counterparts on the right:

Dula – Nna
Ntlung – Ntlong
Empa – Fela
Palama – Pagama / tana
Maphephe – Matlhare
Dinwamaphodi – Dinotsididi
Morabeng – Kgetseng

Lastly, I want to apologize to Chris for the latter part of my review. The story he tells in Ouma Ruby’s Secret is really lovely and well-written, and deserves to be read by as many children as possible.

And as he does not speak Setswana, there is no way he could have known about the little mistakes in the translation which added up to quite a major a spoiler.

1 comment:

Kyra said...

Based on your review, I'd like to read this story. Do you know if it's available under the same title in the USA?

Would be terrific to do a worldwide bookreview - or at least one across the ocean!

Best, Kyra

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