Reviewed by Donette Read Kruger
Mon, 08 Dec 2008 09:56:00 +0000
WHERE else in the world do they talk about the “white man”? Immediately, therefore, you are aware that it is about a white man in Africa, so no surprises there. The title of this book is clever and apt.
Even though the writer was once a fourth generation Zimbabwean, born into Rhodesia, I was disappointed in his interpretation of his life in Africa, although it had to be written. I came to realise that for him it was cathartic, especially as his true life experiences as outlined here are being promoted as “a riveting memoir”.
Despite his claims that his family were fourth generation inhabitants of the country, he appears quite ignorant of the culture of the Shona, a culture he grew up with yet, despite this valued inheritance, he obviously had no true identity or affiliation with the African culture, anymore than he probably has with the Aborigines of Western Australia where he now lives. The few words he uses in the book were a mixture of Shona monosyllables and that ancient patois of the South African Miners, “Fanagalo”, and reading between the lines sadly, I found his attitude towards blacks flippant and blasé – typical of a “Rhodie” – as we call them nowadays.
Reading between the lines, he is certainly a white Rhodesian through and through, living the life of his colonial ancestors, and therefore, his move out of Africa was inevitable. His family failed in their duty to teach their boy-child to appreciate there was any value in living in Africa, and in this book he fails to justify his existence as a white man living such a privileged lifestyle.
This is a man who, who had gold in the bank vault and a sparkling pool outside his home while others beyond his gates were thirsty and demonstrating for water. It is apparent that his wife fetched water from the pool to wash the dishes during those long hot dry days couldn’t he allow those beyond his gate to dip their buckets in and collect a little water in which to bathe their children? We all know that chlorine dissipates in the sun rendering the chemicals in the pool useless.
This is certainly not his fault but it is definitely the fault of his elders. I am sure that now 12,000 miles away in Australia he must have some regrets about precious opportunities missed. He obviously never had a real black friend. It concerned me to read between the lines that he was abrupt and rude in his dealings with the blacks, and I failed to discover what he actually contributed to the blacks and their lifestyle during his short life here?
On the other hand, as a white woman not involved in Chimurenga II, the Internal Affairs manoeuvres in the north east of the country I found to be enlightening yet devastatingly cruel. These were incidents our white men never talked of in our presence. As for his burning the hut at a deserted village, had the poor man who, up until then inhabited this humble abode, lived to sell his antique gramophone he would have been very wealthy today. (If I had a fire in my home this very night I would scramble to rescue my laptop, and my heart broke for him because his gramophone player was as probably as valuable to him as my laptop is to me.)
The writer appears to have felt more guilty about the horrific death of the puppies he inadvertently burned alive in this man’s hut in Mount Darwin than he did putting his own dogs to sleep before his departure for Australia. Had he discovered the puppies in the abandoned hut prior to raising this humble home to the ground, what would he have done? Wasted precious bullets on shooting them in the head?
He might as well have asked the vet to put down his good and faithful servant at the same time as the dogs, a devoted man he left behind – I am sure – who had to live on with a broken heart. On the other hand the man may have been relieved to see the back of Mr Atkins for his erratic and demanding ways as an employer who kept changing his most recent “plan of the day,” every day.
Contrary to p25, I believe (through my conversations with Dr James Jijide of UZ), that the Hungwe and Dziva tribes people migrated down to Zimbabwe from the Great Lakes of Africa via Malawi, and not from Nigeria. The proof is evident in the fact that even today they often share the same family names and use similar words in their languages. Nigerians and Ghanaians speak a totally different dialect.
For curious readers of the next generation who may wonder what it was like living in Rhodesia, this is entirely appropriate and it is grammatically well written.
If I have misread Graham Atkins the man, if he did contribute to the lives of the blacks, then it is because it did not come across as such in this book and he should please write a sequel.
I don’t believe he ever stopped loving Debbie – until he wrote the last chapter, when re-reading between his lines, Graham Atkins found that he had aligned her with Africa, the Motherland, and subconsciously is convinced they both maltreated him. He surrendered his virginity to Debbie and in turn she dumped him for another man. Africa, on the other hand, gave him a spoilt and privileged lifestyle that he will probably never find in Australia, and in the end, tired of pandering to a generation of selfish whites and seeing her tribesmen being exploited, she too, gave up on him. Obviously he has never forgiven either of them and in his mind he probably sees them amalgamated into one woman in the end, a woman who realised she could live on without him.
(when you order this book add on at least £3 for delivery - which takes anything up to a full working week.)