I do not wish to disclose how long it took me to finish reading Eyes in the Night. It took me far longer than it needed to but not because it was a bad book, but because it was so damn good. I found myself wanting to savour every word. Every sentence, every chapter.
So what is the book all about?
Nomavenda Mathiane stumbled upon her grandmother’s story well over a century after the gruelling events of the Battle of Isandlwana that formed her life. Astounded to hear how her grandmother had survived the Anglo-Zulu Was as a young girl, Mathiane spent hours with her elder sisters reconstructing Nombhosho Makhoba’s extraordinary life. The result is a sweeping epic of both personal and political battles.
Eyes in the Night is a story of loss, resilience, and finally triumph – set against the backdrop of a Zululand changing beyond recognition. A true story that would have been lost but for a chance remark at a family gathering.
I was approached by the publisher, Bookstorm, to be a second eye in checking the Zulu words and phrases in the book and that’s how I came to know about the book. And it was a privilege to work on such an important book.
Mathiane’s mother passed away in 2003 and after the funeral when close family and neighbours gathered in the dining room Mathiane asked her elder sister, whom she affectionately calls Sis Ahh (Ahh for Albertina), why their mother never spoke about their grandmother. Sis Ahh’s response was: “It’s because her mother’s story was filled with too much drama, regret, guilt, and finally, triumph. That is why she did not speak about her mom.”
With such an unexpected answer, Mathiane’s mind started to churn, wondering what on earth Sis Ahh was on about. It wasn’t until the next when they were back at Sis Ahh’s house, that they both brewed a cup of tea and Sis Ahh recounted the life of their grandmother, Nombhosho Makhoba.
This book is about the life of their incredible grandmother. Her father was one of King Cetshwayo’s closest advisers and when the Anglo-Zulu War broke out in 1879, her mother and her younger sister had to seek refuge in the caves of the Shiyane mountains, always awaiting news about the progress of the war and wondering whether their father and husband was still alive.
Her story goes on to a time when she travels the length and breadth of Zululand, surviving on any roots they could find, looking for shelter. After being accepted into a makeshift village, her uncle eventually finds them and takes them home to the Makhobas; but suddenly they have to leave and seek a home elsewhere.
The young Nombhosho thinks that the worst is behind her but her story leads down many heartbreaking and winding roads until she gets to a point where she marries the most eligible bachelor in the region and bears nine children!
So now I hope that justifies why I took so long to grapple with this book. It really is a grapple because there’s so much history and emotion and backstory to take in and Nombhosho gets under your skin very quickly.
As a proud Zulu girl myself, this story just meant so much more. I read about past Zulu kings whom I wish I was alive to have met. I read about a changing Zululand landscape which I am all too familiar with from family holidays in the countryside. I read about one woman’s journey from seeking refuge in a mountain, to escaping a farm, to learning how to read and write, to finding the love of her life. And I bawled when I read the part when her husband dies in the end. Then I bawled even more when SHE dies. That’s how close I got to Nombhosho and that’s how close I got to her insanely epic story.
Thank you Nomavenda for penning such a beautiful, lively, vivid and utterly moving portrait of an unsung woman in the history of the Zulus. May she stay in my heart for all time.