If you can walk, you can dance by Marion Molteno

If You Can Walk, You Can DanceIf You Can Walk, You Can Dance by Marion Molteno
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you can walk, you can dance

By Marion Molteno

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading."

William Styron

Music is such an essential part of my life, it surrounds me, it makes the world seem gentle and rollicking (based upon what I am listening to!) and when I find that music is the main theme of a book, it makes that book even more interesting and enticing. It is easy to relate to the book, fascinating to connect with the people in the book and to live the story as it unfolds through the pages.

Marion Molteno’s book “If you can walk, you can dance” is one such book. Music is the binding theme of the book and as we follow Jennie’s life from South Africa to Zambia and London and back again, we realise that there are many more who believe that music is an important part of their lives too! Sounds simplistic doesn’t it, but think about it. All our memories of good days and bad days have some connection with a song or a piece of music. It just sneaks into the memory and remains a part of all the images and sound we connect with those days.

But I digress. What about the book?

The book is about a young lady named Jennie and her life as she moves across decades and counties and continents. Her journey is not just of places but also of her transformation from a young girl escaping a regime in South Africa to one who teaches music and travels to remote villages to transform the lives of others. The story weaves through South Africa and England and Zambia and Malawi, through villages where music is handed down through families and choir schools where the children learn from books and annotations and classical cello players.

In Swaziland, the land of her and Kevin’s escape, she meets Charity who introduces her to the mbira, and to the music of the villagers. And as she listens to them and joins them she realises –

"---- and I recognise the sound immediately, something that is natural to me, not their way that I am borrowing. This is the way I should always have been singing, but for the accident of having lived too much inside buildings."

It is in London that Jennie really come into her own. She lives in a large sprawling house for some time where there are innumerable people and
“the systems all look as if they have been cobbled together by a set of hopeful amateurs, electric flex trailing, pipes disappearing into and emerging from strange places”. (Reminds me of some of the student gigs we have stayed in.)

Marion’s book is slow-paced but her fluidity with language keeps you engrossed. I am not sure as to how much of her own interesting life is a part of this story, but she obviously knows alternative music well. When Neil plays music for the little boy Michael he talks about
“It’s a profound mystery we are touching on. We need silence to shape the sound and sound to shape the silence. Neither exists without the other.”

Books fascinate us not only with their characterisation of people but also with their characterisation of places and stories. This book is not only about music (Though I love the fact that music is the main theme that sings and dances through the book) it is about how we as human beings adjust and adapt to new surroundings and people, sometimes easily and sometimes with immense difficulty. I empathised with Jennie as she thought about Time –

Time is there, an underlying measure of the seasons. People move within it
Time was being given back to me, in this place where there is more of it than anyone would think of counting.


Zambia and Malawi are no longer just names in papers of maps, here they are a part of our lives. Kiluleli is not just a large village woman – she is the one who believes Nyoko ni nyoko – your mother is still your mother – no matter how long you take to come back. Neil maybe her on-off, on-off boyfriend but he is also the man who teaches her how to make music and play music.

Enjoy the book for the story of a love between two very different protagonists; read it because:

The water is wide – we are alone again, each on opposite sides of that vast ocean we have crossed and recrossed to find a way of being together. The aloneness has travelled with each of us, through all the dismantling of walls and becoming one flesh. We come onto the world alone, and have travelled to meet each other by different routes; and each alone we will leave it.

We shall leave this world alone but as we go through this book, we understand that the end may be alone but the journey is sprinkled with people and places, some who matter like Neil and Jennie and some who flit past our lives like Jaswinder and Muhib.

Enjoy the book!


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