This book was given to me to read by a student in one of my English classes.
It is a challenging read. The author initially introduces us to Tariro, daughter of the Baobab. Tariro tells the stories of her people, and the simple explanations given really help to develop an empathy in the reader. She explains, in her uncle’s voice
‘Now, Lobengula, son of Mzilikazi, king of the Ndebele, had grown concerned about all these varungu – the Boers, the Portuguese, the British – bothering him, wanting him to let them look for gold and other minerals in his territory. But, because he trusted the British Queen’s representative, he finally agreed to sign a document called the Rudd Concession, giving the mining rights they wanted.’
Cecil John Rhodes was granted a charter by Queen Victoria, allowing him to run the country on behalf of Britain. As Tariro quite rightly asks,
‘Who gave her the authority to decide our fate?’ I asked. ‘We have never seen her. We did not accept her as our queen.
The removals of the Karanga people, Tariro’s people, from the land, are violent and merciless. Tariro and her family suffer terribly, with the loss of many people and the removal to poor land with no rights to cut down trees, or to irrigate. And the girls sent to fetch water from the river live in constant danger of attack from the white men. (In Maori, a karanga is a spiritual call to welcome, or summon, the manuhiri – visitors – on to a Marae. It is a thread between the two women, one tangata whenua and one manuhiri, calling through the passages of time. This felt really appropriate to me,as this novel is so much about the calls of woman to woman, and identity through time and place). A good friend of mine who speaks Shona, tells me that Maori and Shona languages have unexpected connection.
Tariro suffers such an attack, and the result is a daughter, Tawona. Despite her hatred of the man, Ian Watson, Tariro loves her daughter, and brings her up in the Karanga way, as best she can, suffering the deprivations that they do.
However, as time passes, discontent grows, and the African National Congress grows and develops. The Karanga, and other displaced African people, build an army and start to reclaim their land. This is also the time of Robert Mugabe. Tariro becomes involved and fights in the battles as a soldier. This is an historic time, where the people of Zimbabwe not only reclaim their land but also reclaim their name.
About two thirds of the way through the novel, we are introduced to Katie, the white and legitimate daughter of Ian Watson, and the White African version of events is told. To be fair, it is difficult for the reader to develop a lot of empathy with Katie and her family. Our first and loyal affiliation is to the family we know and love already, who were so badly treated by her white ancestors and by her father. Racism is conveyed very effectively, especially in moments where Katie herself acts in ways that reflect her upbringing, rather than what she learns. I guess this could be uncomfortable reading for some, but it reflects very much a perspective that was real. What the author attempts to do is to help us understand why Katie might feel that she has had her heritage ripped away from her. She is not successful in this. But I did find myself thinking that it wasn’t Katie’s fault she was born into the family and the place that she was.
This novel demands that the reader asks some really difficult questions of themselves and their lives. The author bravely attempts to present two sides of a story that she cannot really feel in her heart. While this is courageous, I think ultimately Katie as a character fails. She is relatively two-dimensional compared to Tariro or Tawona. I’m not sure that is entirely fair, but it is a brave attempt to acknowledge the possibility of another perspective to this story.
This is a very well written book that taught me much about the recent history of Zimbabwe. I will be asking my friend who grew up in Zimbabwe, to read it and tell me his view.
Because of the violent acts that happen within the story, I feel this is probably a Young Adult / Adult novel. I would rate it a 4/5 stars.