Monday, 14 June 2010

THIS SEPTEMBER SUN by Bryony Rheam


I realised a couple of years ago that your average American and I were very different, in that a 30 year old American has seen versions of themselves and their lives in books, and in films and TV, thousands of times. In fact, they rarely see anything that isn't about some version of their life. Whereas, for a Zimbabwean, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen me or someone like me represented in the arts, or in media. In fact, as a Zimbabwean in the diaspora, I can't think when I've ever seen me. Until I read THIS SEPTEMBER SUN.

Ms Rheam was born in 1974, and thus this is, thankfully, not another how-we-survived-the-war white person story, because like me she doesn't really remember the war. This book is about life in Zimbabwe since Independence, and then about life in the diaspora - London to be exact - with a classic what-am-I-doing-with-my-life story line, that I am familiar with not from fiction but from the actual diasporic Zimbabweans I know.

Basically, the book tells the story of a young girl, Ellie, who is very close to her grandmother. She leaves Zimbabwe to got to university in the UK, and her gran dies. She comes back and gets involved in reading her gran's letters and diaries, and the second half of the book is largely flashbacks to her grandmother's early life, when she moved to Zim from the UK and had a tortured romance. It ends in the present, with the young woman getting married and moving from London to Mocambique.

The book is in general very well observed. At one point, for example, Ellie rejoices in sleeping in a Zimbabwean bed, noticing particularly how the sheets smell of sunlight, from being dried outdoors. Occasionally there did seem to be a little too much tolerance of the sentimental cliche; she closes one chapter by saying something along the lines of how she loved her daughter, but just didn't know how to show it. Oh dear.

I went to a talk with the author, who seemed a very nice woman. She said that she is struggling to get her book published outside Zim, and she thinks it is because no one wants personal stories, or romances, from Zim - they only want political tales, and the obviously topical. There was a Shona man there who lectures I think at a University in Zim, and he said he had never really read any white Zimbabwean literature before, and how he felt it ought to be on the syllabus, as minority work. It was very sweet, because he was explaining to us what he learnt from the book about the white community; that it's a very small one, and that people are constantly leaving it.

6 comments:

  1. This sounds very interesting and you are right that one never reads about the Zim diaspora nevermind in a non political sense! Sounds like an interesting and different voice. thanks for sharing
    Hannah

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  2. Glad you enjoyed This September Sun. It has been very popular in Zimbabwe - especially with those who are the narrator Ellie's age- from all the communities - white and black. For reviews of the book look at our blog - amabooksbyo.blogspot.com There is also more information about books from 'amaBooks on our website - www.amabooksbyo.com
    There is an extract from the book on www.book2look.com under fiction and anyone interested can buy it online or if in the Uk from Books of Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe the book is in many outlets in Bulawayo and Harare and in SA - Clarkes Books in Cape Town, Xarra Books in Joburg, Protea in Pretoria.
    Jane Morris

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  3. This sounds like an interesting book. I tried to look for it on Amazon,but it's not there yet. I also like what amaBooks, the publisher, is doing in promoting new writing in Zimbabwe, and how the author has so far promoted her book in Zim, etc.

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  4. Hi Emmanuel, Jane and Hannah

    Sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comments - I didn't quite understand how to enable comments properly on this blog! I guess that explains why I am writing a book blog and not a technology blog. I really admire amabooksbyo.com The world of Zim literature is endlessly interesting to me.

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  5. This September Sun, as well as other amaBooks publications Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe and Chris Mlalazi's Dancing with Life, are now available in the USA as e-books through Scribd:
    http://www.scribd.com/document_collections/2622695

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