As Zakes Mda's fifth novel opens, the seaside village of Hermanus is overrun with whale-watchersforeign tourists determined to see whales in their natural habitat. But when the tourists have gone home, the whale caller lingers at the shoreline, wooing a whale he has named Sharisha with cries from a kelp horn. When Sharisha fails to appear for weeks on end, the whale caller frets like a jealous loveroblivious to the fact that the town drunk, Saluni, a woman who wears a silk dress and red stiletto heels, is infatuated with him.
The two misfits eventually fall in love. But each of them is ill equipped for romance, and their relationship suggests, in the words of The Washington Post, that "the deeper, darker concern here is not so much the fragility of love, but the fragility of life itself when one surrenders wholly to the foolish heart."
Despite the lighthearted and often hilarious antics, this love triangle, like so many others, is tragically unsustainable. Perhaps this is where The Whale Caller defies expectation: If it is a morality play, these are unusually funny, richly developed characters. If it is a quirky, romantic comedy, it's dispensed with a heaping helping of human frailty, tragic behavior and self-destruction. With an offhanded mastery of lyrical language, this gifted storyteller's prose shimmers without extravagance…begins as a reverie, illuminating the beauty of imperfect love and the thrill of struggling to maintain it. Yet in the end, beyond the whimsy and whales, the deeper, darker concern here is not so much the fragility of love, but the fragility of life itself when one surrenders wholly to the foolish heart.