Slice of life from the Durban community, a colorful page-turner

First author Quraisha Dawood Stir the pot is a very enjoyable read that addresses issues of female community in a religious context. The writing is evocative, rich in metaphors and gives a strong sense of place on the coast of Durban.

It’s a vibrant story of ladies and maids, of wives and their husbands, of secrets and lies, of a wedding, a death, a theft, Ramadan and delicious traditional cooking recipes.

There are a large number of larger-than-life characters, but the narrative flows seamlessly between their perspectives. Each chapter ends with a recipe from the novel, further adding to the engaging nature of the story.

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“Stirring the Pot”: Synopsis

Zaina, an architecture student, lives with her mother in a building in Durban. The community is deeply religious and tight-knit and so Zaina’s romance is unlikely to remain a secret for long or please her mother or neighbors. Zaina tries to hide her dates with Imraan, but one of the maids from the Summer Terrace building is already on her.

Because next to every loudmouthed, busy lady in Summer Terrace, there’s an industrious maid!

Joyce and her Mrs. Ruki live together like sisters, helping each other despite illness. But the other maids, living in tiny storage rooms downstairs, feel invisible to their madams…unless one of the women upstairs wants them to clean up or learn more about Islam.

With a wedding on the agenda and the holy month of Ramadan approaching, there’s all the more reason for the women of Summer Terrace to reunite. In a situation like this, it’s only a matter of time before Zaina’s secret is out. And his won’t be the only one…

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Is ‘Stirring the Pot’ for you?

Stir the pot is an excellent example of local contemporary women’s fiction. Between maternity, marriage, neighborhood, motherhood, career and religious duty, the main characters have a lot to do. These competing demands cause a lot of conflict, which creates a busy plot.

It may be somewhat refreshing that there’s no great romance in the novel – it’s firmly grounded in the demands of everyday life and the female community.

Religion plays a big role in the novel. It creates conflict, brings comfort and imbues the setting with rich cultural traditions in the preparation of religious ceremonies.

This book is also a serious but gentle reflection on the perpetually troubling dynamic of the maid that is so endemic in middle-class South African homes. The servants of the book are protagonists and readers get a glimpse of their points of view.

However, they still play the supporting role of the madams who shape their daily experiences and we never hear much about their lives outside of the community.

Stir the pot is hardly a powder keg for revolution, but it does create space for madams to consider their own roles in this very South African dynamic.

About Quraishda Dawood

Quraisha Dawood is the author of a collection of poetry, Jewels of Faith: Poems for Muslim Youth, and the autobiography almost me. Stir the pot, that’s her first novel. It is based on research on the madam-maid relationship that she conducted for her master’s thesis.

Dawood also holds a doctorate in sociology. She lives in Durban and works in academia as a research director.

Stir the pot is published by Penguin Random House South Africa. It sells for R297 at Exclusive books.