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Praying Mantis

by Andre Brink

Who can resist a book where the hero goes under the moniker of Cupido Cockroach? And one’s appetite is whetted further when it transpires from the notes that Cupido Cockroach (or Kupido Kakkerlak, in Dutch) really existed. He was born around the year 1760, made a name for himself as one of the Cape of Good Hope's greatest drinkers, fighters, and womanizers, converted to Christianity and became one of the first native African missionaries.

The story begins on a Dutch farm in the Cape where Cupido was born. He was given up for dead at birth but when a praying mantis (the harbinger of good fortune) was seen sitting on the shroud and the breathing child was unwrapped it was proclaimed that his would be no ordinary life. And nor was it. Cupido worships and fears the gods Tsui-Goab and Heitsi-Eibib, plucks stars from the sky, makes love with mermaids, holes in the ground, goats (and every woman in sight) then finally meets and marries his match, Anna, the soap maker.
Ever gullible, Cupido then comes under the spell of a different kind of magic – Christianity. He rejects the beliefs of his people and takes to his new religion with relish, devouring the words of the bible with gusto (quite literally). He is then appointed as a missionary and sent to a remote part of the Cape where he is eventually abandoned by his family, his church and his flock.

PRAYING MANTIS is a wonderful piece of storytelling. Brink takes the skeleton of Cupido’s life story, fleshes out the bones and creates a tale and a character that warms the heart while also exposing the harm that superstition, religion and colonialism produces.

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