Chanda's Secrets

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2/1/2004
  • Publisher: Annick Press

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An unforgettable novel about family, loyalty and survival in sub-Saharan Africa -- now a major motion picture."As soon as I get back from the shabeen, I go next door to see Mrs. Tafa. I have to ask to use her phone to let our relatives know about Sara. I'm nervous. Mrs. Tafa would like to run the world. Since she can't run the world she's decided to run our neighborhood."So speaks sixteen-year-old Chanda, an astonishingly perceptive girl living in the small city of Bonang, a fictional city in Southern Africa.While Mrs. Tafa's hijinks are often amusing, the fact is that Chanda's world is profoundly difficult. When her youngest sister dies, the first hint of HIV/AIDS emerges.In this sensitive, swiftly-paced story readers will find echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird as Chanda must confront undercurrents of shame and stigma. Not afraid to explore the horrific realities of AIDS, Chanda's Secrets also captures the enduring strength of loyalty, friendship and family ties. Above all, it is a story about the corrosive nature of secrets and the healing power of truth.Through the artful style of acclaimed author Stratton, the determination and resilience Chanda embodies will live on in readers' minds.

Author Biography

Allan Stratton recently returned from Africa where he met the people who inspired this book. He is past Head of Drama at an arts school in Toronto and a former member of New York's The Actors' Studio. His earlier young adult novel, Leslie's Journal, earned numerous accolades, including a place on the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults list.


Chapter 1I'm alone in the office of Bateman's Eternal Light Funeral Services. It's early Monday morning and Mr. Bateman is busy with a new shipment of coffins."I'll get to you as soon as I can," he told me. "Meanwhile, you can go into my office and look at my fish. They're in an aquarium on the far wall. If you get bored, there're magazines on the coffee table. By the way, I'm sorry about your sister."I don't want to look at Mr. Bateman's fish. And I certainly don't want to read. I just want to get this meeting over with before I cry and make a fool of myself.Mr. Bateman's office is huge. It's also dark. The blinds are closed and half the fluorescent lights are burned out. Aside from the lamp on his desk, most of the light in the room comes from the aquarium. That's fine, I guess. The darkness hides the junk piled in the corners: hammers, boards, paint cans, saws, boxes of nails, and a stepladder. Mr. Bateman renovated the place six months ago, but he hasn't tidied up yet.Before the renovations, Bateman's Eternal Light didn't do funerals. It was a building supply center. That's why it's located between a lumber yard and a place that rents cement mixers. Mr. Bateman opened it when he arrived from England eight years ago. It was always busy, but these days, despite the building boom, there's more money in death than construction.The day of the grand reopening, Mr. Bateman announced plans to have a chain of Eternal Lights across the country within two years. When reporters asked if he had any training in embalming, he said no, but he was completing a correspondence course from some college in the States. He also promised to hire the best hair stylists in town, and to offer discount rates. "No matter how poor, there's a place for everyone at Bateman's."That's why I'm here.When Mr. Bateman finally comes in, I don't notice. Somehow I've ended up on a folding chair in front of his aquarium staring at an angelfish. It's staring back. I wonder what it's thinking. I wonder if it knows it's trapped in a tank for the rest of its life. Or maybe it's happy swimming back and forth between the plastic grasses, nibbling algae from the turquoise pebbles and investigating the little pirate chest with the lid that blows air bubbles. I've loved angelfish ever since I saw pictures of them in a collection of National Geographics some missionaries donated to my school."So sorry to have kept you," Mr. Bateman says.I leap to my feet."Sit, sit. Please," he smiles.We shake hands and I sink back into the folding chair. He sits opposite me in an old leather recliner. There's a tear on the armrest with gray stuffing poking out. Mr. Bateman picks at it."Are we expecting your papa?""No," I say. "My step-papa's working." That's a lie. My step-papa is dead drunk at the neighborhood shebeen."Are we waiting for your mama, then?""She can't come either. She's very sick." This part is almost true. Mama is curled up on the floor, rocking my sister. When I told her we had to find a mortuary she just kept rocking. "You go," she whispered. "You're sixteen. I know you'll do what needs doing. I have to stay with my Sara."Mr. Bateman clears his throat. "Might there be an auntie coming, then? Or an uncle?""No.""Ah." His mouth bobs open and shut. His skin is pale and scaly. He reminds me of one of his fish. "Ah," he says again. "So you've been sent to make the arrangements by yourself."I nod and stare at t

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