Reviewed by Saaleha Bhamjee - Afrocentric Muslimah
Let me say from the outset. It is compulsive reading. Take it up only when you have the time to finish it. Once you start you’ll be itching to get to the last page.
Confessions of a gambler by Rayda Jacobs is a multi faceted read, simply written, yet complex and varied in the themes that it tackles. Amongst these, the most difficult for me was homosexuality in the life of a Muslim.
Abeda, or Beeda as she is called by family, is a single mother who has triumphed over desertion by her husband during her pregnancy with her third child. She has fought hard to conquer her feelings for a love that she is not meant to have. She has struggled with the knowledge that her son is gay choosing to ignore the reality as a means of coping with it. But when he calls her to tell her that he has AIDS her carefully constructed world comes crashing down around her ears. And her love as a mother is tested as she strives to hold the fragile threads of her family together.
She finds a twisted solace in a demon that will eventually bring her to the brink of destruction – gambling.
The book was fascinating for me, because I could identify with the protagonist. She, like me(i.e Afrocentric Muslimah), is a Muslim woman struggling to find her place within an Islamic framework. She too is struggling with the mixed messages that come from a community that has too long placed more emphasis on what others think as opposed to what God thinks.
She prays, fasts, wears the hijaab. But she has her secrets, her sins as she calls them. Confessions of a Gambler shows how a person can be fallible, yet deeply spiritual, which for me was refreshing.
The book oscillates effortlessly between her memories and the present. It brings to life the Cape Malay community. Vividly drawn to the point where you can hear the accent, smell the koeksusters. There is humour, love, laughter, shame, disgrace, pain. Textured and finely crafted. Unflinching in its honesty
It is tinged with tragedy, which for just a moment I felt was somewhat excessive. The scenes where Beeda describes the agony of addiction are so realistic that one is transported to the bright lights, whirring machines and music of coins pouring forth from a slot machine as one reads.
A truly memorable read. Richly deserving of a place of honour on any book shelf. Certainly one of my Top Ten reads of all time.
Director Rayda Jacobs discusses her film, ‘Confessions of a Gambler,’ at the 25th Anniversary Miami International Film Festival
Confession of Gambler Movie trailer