A budding author’s first book examines how religion can be used to manipulate people and how greed can manifest itself through capitalism
Invisible Strings, the debut novel of Wits University graduate Naledi Mashishi, tells the story of a little girl named Thato, who as a baby develops supernatural powers. She is able to do things such as find missing objects, see and communicate with deceased people, have visions and heal people by touch.
One day, as Thato is helping a wounded cat, her powers are discovered by a young pastor, Solomon Khumalo, who is desperate to prove himself before a large, loyal congregation.
Solomon grew up in a poor family and has long dreamed of living the life of a wealthy man. In a desperate bid to achieve this dream, he concocts a devious plan: He aims to strike a deal with Thato’s mother, Mamokgethi. He offers to compensate her in exchange for access to her daughter’s powers, which he wants to present as his own.
Mamokgethi is tempted by the offer, and from this point on the book highlights how extreme desire for money can manifest as greed.
The book does a remarkable job of highlighting the prevailing rise of false prophets. The author successfully manages to create a believable narrative. Despite Invisible Strings being a work of fiction, the plot evokes feelings of frustration and anger since this is a take on a real-life issue. The issues resonate strongly with what is happening in society and among religious leaders.
Through deceit, Solomon finally manages to live out his dream life when his assumed powers start to pay off financially. He attracts an overwhelmingly large congregation, all there to be granted healing by this ‘’man of God’’. He manipulates people into giving him money, even if it means taking their entire life savings. This ties in with the themes of greed and capitalism. As clichéd as the phrase may be, money talks: People who seek healing through Solomon’s church can attain it only if they have sufficient capital to do so.
Solomon also compels people’s devotion to the church by implementing extremely conservative rules. These include not drinking alcohol and divorced people being banned from the church as this is “against the Word of God”. Depending on one’s religious beliefs, some may agree with such rules while others may not. From one’s personal interpretation, however, it appears as though Solomon will twist verses of the Bible to suit his personal beliefs of what is wrong and what is right. He then imposes these beliefs on his congregation.
The story resonates with all the reports seen in present-day news cycles, about manipulative and false prophets. It is a reminder of how religion and spirituality can be abused for self-enrichment. Through the news, the public are exposed to claims of prophetic powers that are usually quite irrational and almost comical.
In South Africa, for instance, we have seen a self-proclaimed ‘’prophet’’ spraying insecticide over his congregants to ‘‘deliver them from evil’’. We are shown something remarkably similar in Invisible Strings. In this regard, the book can be considered as social commentary.
The novel has an eloquent flow, as the writer has a simple but descriptive style of writing. Readers can vividly envision the setting, due to how elaborate the writing is.
South African readers may find the novel relatable because there are many references to cultural symbols and locations unique to the country. These symbols include township culture as depicted through Soweto during the 1980s and existing social disparities that are explicit when comparing places such as Sandton and Alexandra. The setting switches between apartheid and contemporary South Africa, making it a book that people of different ages can empathise with.
Invisible Strings highlights the use of religion to mask sinister intentions, greed and the extreme love of money, how the past bleeds into the present as well as the binary of the living and the dead.
VUVU RATING: 8.5/10
FEATURED IMAGE: A copy of ‘Invisible Strings’ by Naledi Mashishi. Photo: Karabo Mashaba
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