FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Zimbabwe’s Unravelling

by CHARLES R. LARSON

Irene Sabatini’s deceptive narration in this haunting novel lures the reader in slowly, slowly—coiling like a snake about to spring. By the time you realize that she’s mesmerized you, it’s too late. You’re hooked on Sabatini’s superb narrative skills and there’s nothing to do but read faster and faster. The Boy Next Door is unlike any other novel that I have read about Southern Africa, let alone Zimbabwe the story’s setting.

Part of the compelling narrative is Sabatini’s decision to make no concessions to her readers. Her language is vibrant and colorful. Her characters speak a pastiche of Shona, British English, Zimbabwean street slang, Afrikaans—all gnarled together into sentences that initially seem troubling only because the so-called “foreign” words are not parenthetically explained. No problem, as the story moves on, her characters’ lingo reveals itself by context. To a certain extent, Sabatini employs the same magical process in her plotting. Important details are withheld only to jolt the reader many chapters later when the real “truth” of her story can finally be pieced together. The Boy Next Door is an intellectual puzzle disguised as a detective story. When everything is finally revealed, it’s impossible not to be impressed by Sabatini’s flawless first novel. May she write many more.

The cryptic beginning starts with a jolt: the murder of a white woman, set on fire in the house next to the story’s main character, Lindiwe Bishop. Nothing is clear, but seventeen-year-old Ian McKenzie is accused of killing his step-mother. Soon he’s in prison, and Lindiwe attempts to figure everything out. Lindiwe has a white father and an African mother. Such marriages were previously forbidden in the former Rhodesia (the setting is mostly in Bulawayo), but these are the heady years immediately after the country’s 1980 independence, and many people are hopeful that the racist environment similar to apartheid will quickly fade away.

When Ian is suddenly released from prison a year or more later, Lindiwe who is slightly younger discovers that she is drawn to him, largely because of the mystery surrounding the details of the death next door. Her parents tell her never to have anything to do with Ian, almost a guarantee that the forbidden will become her obsession.

Running parallel to Lindiwe’s story are the implications that Zimbabwe is truly Africa’s success story: “a stable, economically sound democracy ruled by an intelligent Western-educated, soft-spoken liberator,” Robert Mugabe. But then things begin to crumble—not only in the country but also in Lindiwe’s own family. Her father gets Rosanna pregnant. She’s of mixed race and hardly older than Lindiwe. Suddenly, then, Lindiwe has a much younger half sister, and her mother begins to withdraw into herself.

Color is buried throughout much of the novel. When Lindiwe eventually gets involved with Ian, much of the attraction is that he doesn’t act like a Rhodie, a while Rhodesia, but more like a black person. He’s not very refined, directionless, not much concerned with what in the past (because of his white parents) would have been a given: education. Then Ian suddenly decides to go to South Africa, where he has relatives—largely because of increasing skirmishes between Zimbabwe’s two major ethnic groups (Shona and Ndebele) continuing their rivalry after independence. The decade was a bloody time for the country, though the West largely looked away because of the country’s economic prospects.

After the lengthy opening section set in the 1980s, it’s the decade that follows when Lindiwe’s country and family face steady deterioration. It’s almost a hundred and fifty pages before Mugabe is first mentioned and then with a fairly innocuous remark made by a minor character: “Mugabe is made as hell at Mandela for stealing the limelight, for getting himself released.”

Then, a hundred pages later, there’s a comment about Mugabe’s new wife: “Our new First Lady, First Shopper, the indomitable Grace Mugabe, swathed in designer chiffons and silk, the white queen, the Air Zimbabwe fleet ever happy to whisk and carry her off for fittings and excursions….” The economy will shortly collapse; as Mugabe’s government grabs the lands of the white farmers, the great unraveling begins.

There are so many surprising but believable twists of the story that would be unfair to reveal except that Ian returns to Bulawayo, much more self-controlled and motivated than earlier, and Lindiwe is attracted to him just as she was earlier when it was Ian who put the damper on their relationship.

Then, Zimbabwe’s decline and the two main characters impinge upon one another directly as past and present, country and nation, race and family bring this almost perfect novel to a startling and memorable conclusion. Three cheers for Irene Sabatini.

The Boy Next Door
By Irene Sabatini
Little, Brown, 403 pp., $23.99

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.
.

 

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail