“The Speckled Cow” was Susan’s favourite childhood story, told to her and her brother Robert under the wild banana palm at the bottom of the garden by Beauty, their Zulu maid, whenever Ma had another of her headaches--- about a cow who reveled in her difference and refused to eat the same grass as her more boring sisters.
Susan has tried so hard to conform in order to please her family that her life has become dead--- even her flashbacks to the past seem more real than the present.
Things change suddenly when Susan must deal with her conflicting feelings about the amorous attentions showered on her by the wife of her husband’s boss. When Robert announces his engagement to Zodwa, a young Zulu woman who was raised in England, Susan offers to lend moral support when he goes home to break the news to the family. As all the family secrets start to tumble out and the jigsaw puzzle of Susan’s past begins to take shape, she is forced to make changes to her life to become more like the Speckled Cow.
The story describes family life and relationships in apartheid South Africa and how the new constitution allows people to be their true selves despite the lingering hypocrisy and prejudice.