This is an ambitious book.
Told from four points of view, When Morning Comes is a fictional telling of the plot and players around the Soweto student uprising in 1976. The students were protesting the Baas Law, which would have made new education policies for black students completely untenable. Students were already forced to learn in English, a second language, and the new law would mean students in Grade 10 and lower would need to go to school in Afrikaans.
Author Arushi Raina, who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, weaves the story between four very different characters: Meena, a brown girl who wants to be a doctor, Zanele, a black student helping lead the protest, her best friend Thabo, a gang member extorting cash from Meena’s father, and Jack, a white boy killing time until he heads out of the country to go to a fancy school. Their lives intertwine in surprising ways. There isn’t much room for racial delicacy in Raina’s book: the characters are defined by their skin colour because it determines their place in 1976 Soweto.
These characters need each other to survive what is coming, even if they don’t know it at first. Even if they refuse to accept it in the face of its necessity.
I did trip a bit over the book’s extra players: remembering where they go, who they are. Uprisings are complicated: books about them can’t help but be. There are so many perspectives, agendas, motives. Nothing is clear cut. There are no clear delineations between good and bad, although I think we can all agree that police officers shooting students are not on the right side of things. It’s the details that are hard to agree on.
What’s hard to stomach, reading books like this, is how much the world hasn’t changed. How people haven’t changed how they relate to each other. How government leaders make decisions that appear foolish and that negatively impact large groups of people. How their decisions are either blatantly elitist, or incredibly murky. Are these leaders doing what they think is right, or are they simply doing what they want? Does a person’s motives really matter if the outcome is heinous? I worry for people.