A passionate tale of colonialism and its aftermath.
I cannot imagine why this thoughtful and beautifully constructed novel by an author of immense talent is so little known and so little praised. It’s a very strong book, filled with sensual images, subtle feelings, vibrant scenes, carefully plotted intrigue, and clear messages. Its scenes of family life and strife in Zanzibar, contrasted with the “civilized,” bureaucratic, and officious behavior of the British at home and abroad, establish strong contrasts and illuminate the themes.
The book begins as a leisurely portrait of two lonely immigrants to England from Zanzibar, one of them a distinguished young professor and the other a 65-year-old asylum seeker who has just arrived, pretending he understands no English. As the points of view shift back and forth between the two men in succeeding sections of the novel, we come to know each man well–his life, his aspirations in Zanzibar, his extended family, the family’s business connections there, and ultimately, the how and why of each man’s emigration to England. Coming from two different generations, each man has a different view of his former country, the older man having spent most of his life there, escaping to England when all other hope is gone, and the younger having left as a young student, but still longing for the connections he left behind.
Powerful ironies drive the action. Each man knows who the other is, or was, in Zanzibar, and each believes that the other’s family has brought about his own family’s downfall there. As the two men tentatively explore the past and the old man reveals information the young man could never have known, the pace quickens until the past and the present merge and each of the men discovers hidden truths and new strengths. This is a passionate book of clear vision, a book which recognizes harsh truths and still remains compassionate.
Notes: The author’s photo and a brief biography are from http://kichindi.blogspot.com