In this collection of lightly interconnected stories, Gothataone Moeng invites readers into the lives of people in contemporary Botswana. Her characters, mostly women, are concerned with daily challenges but often consumed by loftier, more existential worries. They ponder what they want and how to get it; they excavate their own histories, looking for patterns; they butt up against (and often reject) societal expectations. All the while, they gossip with friends, fall in and out of love, go to work and complain about the weather.
There is little drama or fanfare in these stories. Instead, Moeng explores intrapersonal dilemmas and cultural changes by writing about the seemingly banal. In straightforward but elegant prose, full of sensory details, she homes in on scenes of ordinary intimacy: Three sisters discuss how to take care of their aging mother. A young woman returning home after a sojourn in America is startled by how much both she and her family have changed. University students muddle their way through first crushes, loves and sexual experiences.
In particular, Moeng beautifully captures the varied textures of marital relationships. In one story, a grieving widow whose mourning period is coming to an end struggles to ease back into the role that her friends and family expect of her. In another story, a married woman unhappily prepares for her husband’s annual visit to his cattle station, revealing the cracks in their marriage and their conflicting expectations and ideas about desire and responsibility.
The unique women in Call and Response all relate to their homes, husbands, families and careers in vastly different ways. Through their stories, Moeng delves into the divide between rural and urban life, the constraints of marriage, the role of education in shaping how people think about the world and so much more. Quiet but powerful, Call and Response illuminates the complexities of a place and the characters who live there. Most of all, it’s about the messy striving and seeking we all do as we move from childhood into adulthood.