Set in South Africa during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, there’s no question that If You Want to Make God Laugh tells a heart wrenching story, but it’s also exactly the kind of thought-provoking book that stays with me long after turning the last page. Two of the main characters are white, sisters who haven’t seen each other in decades, and the third is their black teenage maid, Zodwa. Over the course of the novel, all of them confront what motherhood means in their very different lives. Ruth and Delilah arrive back at the abandoned house they grew up in within hours of each other, both for reasons they’d rather keep secret. Delilah is an aid worker who almost became a nun, while Ruth, known to the tabloids as South Africa’s wild child, has just attempted to fake her own suicide in a misguided bid to save her failing (third) marriage. Tension between the sisters is fraught enough, and when an abandoned black newborn appears on the doorstep the sisters’ opposite but equally intense reactions further divide them. Ruth would like the baby to stay, and Delilah knows she can’t possibly endure sharing her home with a child. Delilah’s story of betrayal is perhaps the most poignant, and I blinked back tears for the loss she endured, but Zodwa and even the seemingly self-centered Ruth are richly developed characters. The writing is so lovely I could blanket the sky with the stars If You Want to Make God Laugh deserves. Don’t miss this one!— Jenny Chou
Set in South Africa during the historic election of Nelson Mandela, this follow-up to Hum If You Don’t Know the Words is the story of two white sisters - Ruth, a much-married socialite, and Delilah, a nun-turned-aid-worker - who find a black baby on their doorstep. What they don’t know is that the baby is Zodwa’s; her mother left the baby there in hopes of a better life for both her daughter and granddaughter. The story alternates perspectives of the three, as they struggle with whether to sell the family farm, how to deal with the neighborhood Afrikaner nationalist group, the revelations of past sexual abuse, the realization that Baby Mandla is HIV+, and several other complications. That is indeed a good amount of drama for one family, but if you’ll roll with that, you’ll be completely hooked on this story and fall in love with our three unforgettable heroines of If You Want to Make God Laugh.— Daniel Goldin
From the author of the beloved Hum If You Don't Know the Words comes a rich, unforgettable story of three unique women in post-Apartheid South Africa who are brought together in their darkest time and discover the ways that love can transcend the strictest of boundaries.
In a squatter camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, seventeen-year-old Zodwa lives in desperate poverty, under the shadowy threat of a civil war and a growing AIDS epidemic. Eight months pregnant, Zodwa carefully guards secrets that jeopardize her life.
Across the country, wealthy socialite Ruth appears to have everything her heart desires, but it's what she can't have that leads to her breakdown. Meanwhile, in Zaire, a disgraced former nun, Delilah, grapples with a past that refuses to stay buried. When these personal crises send both middle-aged women back to their rural hometown to heal, the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby upends everything, challenging their lifelong beliefs about race, motherhood, and the power of the past.
As the mystery surrounding the infant grows, the complicated lives of Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah become inextricably linked. What follows is a mesmerizing look at family and identity that asks: How far will the human heart go to protect itself and the ones it loves?
About the Author
Bianca Marais is the author of Hum If You Don't Know the Words. She holds a certificate in creative writing from the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies, where she now teaches creative writing. Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and volunteered with Cotlands, where she assisted care workers in Soweto with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans. Originally from South Africa, she now resides in Toronto with her husband.
"Lovely....Marais showcases her talent for pulling beauty from the pain of South African history with a strong story and wonderfully imperfect characters."--Publishers Weekly
"This earnest novel burns with the consequences of forbidden romance, betrayal, and the redemptive power of love."--Booklist
"Marais excels at creating compelling characters; readers will be turning the pages, wondering what life has in store for each."--Library Journal
"Bianca Marais renders her home country – and the issues that plagued it during this era -- with the nuance of an insider."--Refinery29
"Once again, Bianca Marais writes beautifully about her home country."--Hello Giggles
"A moving portrait of the choices women can make--and the ones we can't. Beautifully crafted and powerfully drawn, this book had me in tears."--Jill Santopolo, bestselling author of The Light We Lost and More Than Words
“Told with meticulous detail and compassion, If You Want to Make God Laugh is a portrait of a country in transition--and of three women at their own crossroads. Bianca Marais shines light on the injustices and barriers experienced by her characters without shying away from their complicated humanity. Over the course of this nuanced second novel, Zodwa, Ruth and Delilah consider what they owe to others--family, friends, country--and, just as importantly, what they have the right to seek themselves.”—Chloe Benjamin, bestselling author of The Immortalists and The Anatomy of Dreams
"A story of three remarkable women at crossroads in their own lives against the backdrop of South Africa at the moment of stunning transformation that will keep you reading late into the night. Marais deftly completes a writer's hat trick, leaving you gutted, smiling through tears and soaring with hope."--Steven Rowley, bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor
“Bianca Marias’ gripping second novel twists and turns from one end of Johannesburg to the other....Hard to put down, emotionally riveting, and tackling tough subjects with grace, If You Want to Make God Laugh shows how the resilience of the human spirit can triumph over the most traumatic circumstances.” – Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone and The Confusion of Languages
“You will absolutely love this book. You will. Why? Because Bianca Marais’s heart is immense and full of love. With unsparing insight into the human condition, she unspools a tale that is at once heartbreaking as it is merciful, validating our frailty while eulogizing our endless capacity for generosity and love. We all need the deep refuge of Bianca Marais’s exceptional voice.”—Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter and I Always Loved You