February 21, 2012

...And Yet Another Thrilling Book to Read

I thought I was done with my mini-series of books about Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, but I was wrong. There is one more (or perhaps the only one, if you haven't read the others) you should read: We Are All Zimbabweans Now.

I was intrigued even before I started, when I read the blurb on the back about the author, James Kilgore.
It turns out that while he lived in Zimbabwe (originally he's an American) he did so as a fugitive from the law, and was eventually extradited back to the United States, where he served over six years in prison. That is where he wrote this book (his first). I was immediately sold, as I have a fascination with people who write books while in prison. Perhaps because it is a testament to the power of redemption, but also in part because prison seems such an ideal setup for a writer. Okay, I can now hear you all accosting me for having said that, and I don't in any way mean to belittle what it means being imprisoned. But just think about it from a practical point of view. Lots of time. A very regular daily routine. No responsibilities for others. No grocery shopping. No cooking. Definitely no class mom duties. Did I mention lots of time?

We Are All Zimbabweans Now, unlike Mukiwa or When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, is a work of fiction. It's a good story, starting innocently enough with an American graduate student sets off for Zimbabwe in 1982 full of euphoria to write a thesis about Mugabe's new government and his promise of reconciliation. But things become complicated quickly. He falls in love with a woman who is an ex-guerrilla fighter and somehow connected to a man whose murder he is trying to investigate. He realizes he is being closely watched by intelligence agents as he discovers more and more lies and cover-ups about the bush war that swept Mugabe to power. He also finds evidence of human rights violations in Matabeleland, perpetrated by Zimbabwe's own army, and must finally square his admiration for Mugabe with the fact that something is seriously wrong with the government he built.

I found the ending a bit disappointing but all in all it's a good story, one that lets you peek into Zimbabwe in the early 80s, how Mugabe managed to hoodwink most of the West into believing he was great, how African politics is even murkier than the usual morass of politics, how it is impossible to know whom to trust, and how the choice between right and wrong is not always an easy one.