Friday, January 24, 2014

A critical look at Bonnie Henna's Eyebags & Dimples -- by Refilwe Thobega

(published by Jacana Media)

When Kgomotso Moncho recommends that I read a certain book, I don’t hesitate.
Why?  Apart from being a great friend:
1. She an avid reader.
2. She’s worked as an arts writer of a national newspaper for a long time and continues to write for great magazines.
3. I share with her, and often trust her artistic taste, especially in books, music and film.

So Motso lent me Bonnie Henna’s Eyebags & Dimples at Shelley Beach in Durban a while ago. We hadn’t seen each other in about a year. It was amazing to see a familiar face in a faraway place. She’s happier and lovelier than ever. Durban is definitely treating her very well, but I told her that the bright city lights and the loud noise of Jozi are calling her again. It’s been a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle of Egoli but it’s time we both come back “home” – she knows what I’m talking about.

Eyebags & Dimples is Bonnie Henna’s autobiography. She needs no introduction. She is a renowned South African actress and has been in a number of international films including Drum, Blinded Angels, Catch a Fire and Invictus.

I conclude. Bonnie is a good writer. She paints very vivid images with words. As a fellow reader and friend, Brenda da Silva, told me: this book's an easy read. It took me one day to complete, a huge part of that reason being that I could not put it down. Bonnie finished every chapter so strongly that you can’t wait to jump onto the next one. 

Bonnie’s mother was a pained and emotionally wounded woman. Bonnie says she used to beat, shout at her, and call her insulting names at the most innocent things. She says: “I just wanted her to love me, to see me, to be glad that I existed. I craved her affection and her approval, but I had to contend myself with beatings – they were her only real engagement with me”.

But she also reveals all sides of her mother. Who also proved to be a very strong, sophisticated and quite smart woman. She didn’t hate her children; she was just battling with her own issues and happened to take out her internal turmoil on her kids. If she didn’t want the best for her kids she would not have taken Bonnie to her first audition and supported the process that led to her stardom.

Whether you like her or not, know her or not, when walking in her shoes – by reading this book – you’ll laugh and cry with Bonnie. She’s had one hell of a ride.
Regarding marriage, she says: “marriage was never simple or easy, I came to understand, but it was also a blessing, and a continuous course in problem-solving. Two people unite at an altar and vow to do life together, but when the celebrations end, I discovered, that the real work begins. For we bring to marriage our childhoods and all our beliefs and opinions about how life should be. Nobody had prepared me for this. But then building a 

harmonious life with someone you haven’t lived with for most of your life is like starting from scratch; no one can ever prepare you for such a challenge.”

She does not mince her words. She speaks her mind.
About fans, back in the day, she says: “I didn’t mind fans at a distance, but they got under my skin at times. Someone always seemed to ask an inappropriate question or make a demeaning remark. ‘You are way shorter than I thought’. ‘Have you gained weight?’ This tendency was most prevalent among black people, who seemed completely comfortable saying things only the closest of friends and family should be allowed to say; they took unearned privileges to voice whatever they liked.” She said this pressed her buttons and annoyed her more than it should have.

Younger Bonnie reminds me of Rihanna somehow, actually. Misunderstood. Good girl gone bad. And she explains why she was always perceived to be “aloof” and a drama queen.
Mr and Mrs Henna. 
She says that: “For a long time I felt misunderstood by the world. Now I realise that I was the one who misunderstood me. I’ve had to forgive myself for being hard on myself and others. I had misguided and unreasonable expectations, and wondered around aimlessly seeking fulfillment in all the wrong places.”

She lets the reader in some of the most private affairs of her live. It is revealed for the first time that Bonnie had a relationship with Vusi Twala, son of the great Shado Twala. She also tells that for a long time she suffered from and was diagnosed with depression. One of her friends said, in comforting her: “We are all struggling with something.”
I agree. Hers just happened to be depression (which falls under emotional problems and mental conditions). Some people are struggling with addictions, different illnesses – some chronic and some incurable.

(My mother always laughs when I say I take comfort in that I know and understand my “issue”, some people suffer from undiagnosed mental and personality disorders. They are facing monsters that they don’t even know exist.)

Moving right along …
If you know anything about life, you’ll know one thing for sure: Things don’t always go as planned. Things have their own way of revealing themselves. It was the same for Bonnie. She says: “I had traveled all the way to California to discover who my enemy was. I had fled to pursue a dream, and in turn it had pursued me. All that took place in LA had needed to happen that way. If God had tried to tell me this back at home I would not have listened. I had needed the pain, the desperation, the hunger to force me to pay attention. By stepping into the fire, everything that wasn’t real had been burnt away, exposing what it was that I needed to start dealing with.

Bonnie says she learned, on the TV show Survivor, where she was invited to be a celebrity participant and got eliminated at Top Three, to appreciate the small things, to live on very little and to appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of human beings.  

Bonnie on TV show Survivor.
South African poet, Lebo Mashile sings nothing but praise for Bonnie’s book. She says: “From child star to mother and wife. From abuse to transcendence. From public figure to piercing private pain. This book is a portrait of a woman healing by owning every part of who she is. Bonnie’s bravery and vulnerability exemplify the kind of new personal narratives that will inspire the women of South Africa to self-reflect, reclaim and change the emotional status-quo of our lives as well as that of our society.”
I loved that she told her story boldly from her point of view, but also revealing all sides of it, something that it quite rare in memoirs.

It’a great book. A great read. I loved it. Check it out. 

Even her face just screams: Star! 


  1. I have often heard that experience is the best teacher, however, I have learnt that, one does not necessarily have to learn from their own experiences. From you review Refilwe, it is clear that it was extremely necessary for Bonnie to write Eyebags & Dimples. I can relate and so will so many other young African children. Thanks to Bonnie that now, many will learn how to identify and deal with life's confrontations..

  2. Why am i so scared to read this book?This review makes it impossible for me to ignore it though!!

  3. I need this book, seems like its a must read

  4. I enjoyed the book a lot. It taught me many things.