Feeling a bit down? Post-Silly Season blues? A bit fed up with your life?
Read one of the following books and realize just how very lucky we all are. I don’t know where some of my readers live, but be glad you don’t live in any of the countries I’m writing about. Reality check coming up:
What happens after Mugabe? By Geoff Hill
A thoughtful, well-researched book by one-time South African resident, now Africa correspondent for the Washington Times. Published in 2005. Hill tells a grim tale, with a grim prognosis.
Apart from the grassroots total reconstruction of every aspect of Zimbabwe – health, education, government, infrastructure, agriculture – there is the spectre of 3 million expatriate black Zimbabweans living in South Africa (and I suspect in the intervening 6 years since publication of the book, there are a great deal more; every other waitron in Cape Town is a dark black, skinny, beautifully spoken Zimbo). According to Hill some of these expats are upfront about exacting revenge on the ZANU/PF soldiers/militia/Youth League thugs should the political scene change and assist their return to their country …… oh boy. ‘Nuff said.
Half way through the book, I stopped reading. I could not take any more harrowing statistics. At this point, I wished I was a drinker because I really needed a good, stiff drink.
In December 2011 I had the pleasure of a quick flit around the Kloof SPCA Bookshop, while on a family visit to Durban. I bought Travels Without my Aunt by Julia Llewellyn Smith . This was travel with a difference. JLS wrote her book based on travel to Mexico, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, Paraguay and Argentina, and the criteria for this odd assortment of countries was that British novelist Graham Greene travelled to all of them and used his experiences as material in his novels. For example, Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, set in Cuba. Greene often used exact details, literal locations, buildings, and streets as setting in his novels. Years ago I tried to read Our Man, but abandoned it; I don’t think – after the JLS account – that I’m willing to try again. She’s very clued up about GG and reveals him as a complex, religion haunted, sleazy man, (wherever he travels, he always visits the local brothels). I’m glad he was never my travelling companion.
Most of the countries he/she visited are corrupt, unstable, and in the case of Sierra Leone beyond brutal – unspeakable, horrific – there are not enough words to describe the mayhem generated by the drugged-up, homicidal, child soldiers – Africa at its very terrible worst. Haiti was just as horrible, not one redeeming feature. No surprises there. Dictators, paranoia, voodoo, civil unrest – it all goes on and on, country after country.
Suddenly the woes of South Africa don’t look so bad. Both books thoroughly deserve to be labelled AWFUL BOOKS*, not because of their literary style but because of their dreadful contents.
Julia Llewellyn Smith gets my medal for intrepid travel, and also for good writing.
*I should add that the idea of AWFUL BOOKS comes from the recurring phrase in Alexandra Fuller’s newest book Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness but I’ll report on that another time.