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'Triangulum' by Masande Ntshanga
'There is indeed a force more powerful than humankind. I have assented and do not know much else.'—Review #204
Feedback from our subscribers guides us to many of the books we review. Several of you who recently replied to our welcome email said you enjoy science-fiction novels, so I dug into my two-tiered bedside book pile and unearthed ‘Triangulum’ by Masande Ntshanga. It is sci-fi and much more—part spy thriller, part memoir and part historical novel about South Africa.
Here’s the cover:
It is the near future, and a mysterious manuscript is received by an astronomer in South Africa. The document, dubbed ‘Triangulum,’ is composed of diary entries, transcripts of therapy sessions and a work of autofiction (which I had to look up to learn means a fictionalized autobiography) that chronicle the life of an unidentified woman. The astronomer and his colleagues initially shrug off the text, reading it in their leisure. But they become alarmed after a terror attack it describes proves true. It also claims the world will end in 2050, like:
The Triangulum starts in post-Apartheid Cape Town in the 1990s, when the woman was a headstrong teenage math wiz who bounces around from school to school after clashing with teachers and administrators. Her mother has gone missing, and she lives with her father, a broken-down man who’s a former Apartheid-government collaborator suffering from an ever-worsening cough. But she also is plagued by sporadic visitations from a triangular machine that hovers over her and emits a humming sound. Something like:
What is the machine? Is it the product of her imagination brought on by mental illness? Is it space aliens trying to communicate with her? Does it have something to do with her missing mother? Her quest to understand the machine and what connection, if any, it has to her mother spans decades. In it, she tries to solve local missing-persons cases; she meets strange scientists conducting bizarre and possibly nefarious experiments; and, she gets caught up in a murky scenario involving malicious government agencies, hackers, artists and eco-terrorists. There’s a lot going on, and to explain it more would spoil it. I was intrigued and entertained by her journey, though often I’d lose the narrative thread and was like:
Even so, ‘Triangulum’ was brilliantly constructed. Ntshanga blends not only different source materials to craft his novel, but genres, too. I was excited to read on Two Dollar Radio’s website that the book had been optioned for TV (mobile users, click the About tab). It’s a show I’d watch.
How it begins:
I am a woman acting of her own will and desire. Do not attempt to contact me after this communication. In all likelihood, I am no longer here.
These lines mark the beginning of the note my colleague Dr. Joseph Hessler presented me with three years ago, along with the other materials I was tasked to compile into a dossier meant to inform a State Defense Report. I didn’t. Instead, they became the following manuscript, which, with the now late Dr. Hessler’s assistance, I have prepared for the public as TRIANGULUM.
At the time of writing, the sender of these materials remains unknown. We have at our disposal the note, as well as a cover letter, detailing further instructions. Then the materials themselves: a written record in the form of a memoir, followed by what appears to be a work of autofiction, as well as a set of digital recordings.
Under all circumstances, these testimonies are to be presented as a single communication. It is not possible to make sense of one without the others. This condition is non-negotiable. For the sake of truthfulness, as well as detail—and at personal risk—I have undergone hypnotic regression therapy in order to recall the information I wish to provide this office, but I am still human, or I was human, and to understand me one must understand the life I’ve lived, and I require that this be an accompaniment to the text.
Herewith, then, in preparation for its tri-continental publication, is an accurate representation of the sender’s findings. It is a document announcing the end of our world in 2050.
Who they thanked:
Masande Ntshanga thanked his family and friends, as well as his publishers and fellow writers who inspired him. These include Percival Everett, Colson Whitehead and Stanislaw Lem, among others.
‘Triangulum’ by Masande Ntshanga was published by Two Dollar Radio in 2019. 365 pages. $12.75 at Two Dollar Radio.
Before you go:
ICYMI: Review #203
Read this: ‘A Lost Interview With Clarice Lispector’ in The New Yorker (subscription required for app reading) is fascinating. The Q&A covers her early life, fleeing Ukraine to settle in Brazil, and her writing process for crafting novels, short stories and children’s books. And as a shy person, I loved this passage: ‘I was what I still am, a daring shy person. I’m shy, but I throw myself into things.’
Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!
Until next time,