Friday, August 02, 2019

Fiction Review: If You Want to Make God Laugh

This spring, I finally had the chance to read Hum If You Don't Know the Words (my review at the link), a debut novel by Bianca Marais, a two-time Booktopia author, and it immediately became one of my favorite novels. While I was at Booktopia in May, I pre-ordered her much-anticipated second novel, If You Want to Make God Laugh, and was thrilled when it arrived last month during my Big Book Summer Challenge. I read it as soon as it landed on my doorstep and loved it, too. This unique novel set in South Africa in the 90's, post-apartheid, features interwoven narratives of three very different women.

Seventeen-year-old Zodwa lives in a squatter camp outside of Johannesburg with her mother. She recently moved from the rural Zulu village where she lived with her grandmother. Now Zodwa is eight months pregnant and guarding a secret that could get her killed. The first election in which blacks can vote is approaching, and AIDS is just beginning to make its way through the citizens of the camp, with its terrifying outcomes.

Across the country in Cape Town, Ruth is a wealthy middle-aged white woman with a scandalous past who has everything, except what she really wants. In the opening scene, she stages an almost-suicide in her beautiful home in an attempt to get her husband's attention. Ruth's breakdown will change everything.

In Zaire, another white woman named Delilah has devoted her life to service and works in an orphanage. She is a disgraced nun, though no one really knows the details of what happened so long ago. An anonymous letter sends her abruptly away from the life she has made and back to South Africa, as she struggles with her personal demons. Both women's lives will change dramatically with the discovery of a newborn baby on their doorstep. A dog named Jezebel rounds out the ragtag collection of women.

I love novels where individual stories slowly come together, and Marais does that beautifully here, gradually weaving together the very different lives of Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah into a complex whole. As with her first novel, she paints a vivid picture of South Africa at a certain point in time, in this case highlighting the impacts of the end of apartheid, the beginning of Nelson Mandela's leadership, and the devastating AIDS crisis in a very personal way through these remarkable women. As their stories fill out and come together, I came to care about all three of the women, and - bonus for fans of Hum If You Don't Know the Words - Robin and Beauty make cameos in this novel. Marais' writing brings them all to life on the page, as well as the unique world they live in, and I was completely engrossed in this compelling and powerful story from the first page to the last. After two such moving and thoughtful novels, I can't wait to see what she writes next!

432 pages, G.P. Putnam's Sons

The Book Cougars podcast did a wonderful interview with Bianca Marais about her first novel, Hum If You Don't Know the Words. I just listened to it for the second time! But listen to it AFTER you read the novel, as there are some mild spoilers in the interview.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Listen to a sample of the audio book, featuring three different narrators for the three main characters. The sample includes a bit of the first chapter, from Zodwa's perspective.

You can purchase If You Want to Make God Laugh from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order If You Want to Make God Laugh from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I am definitely going to read this one! I love it when authors bring in past characters that we like for cameo appearances.

    1. I was so glad to see you got to Read Hum If You Don't Know the Words! I think you will like this one, too.