Bryony Rheam, author of This September Sun, was at The Book Café in Harare on Thursday 27 May for a discussion of her book. After Bryony read a short excerpt from the novel, Eresinah Hwede of Zimbabwe Women Writers presented a paper in which she identified some of the major themes of the novel, such as that of the search for identity and the ever-shrinking world of the white Zimbabwean. Francis Mungana of Midlands State University then spoke about white writing from Zimbabwe and the insight the novel has given him into what he terms ‘the Rhodesian psyche’.
Those in the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions. Bryony was asked about the relevance of music in the novel. There are quite a number of songs quoted, mainly those of Nat King Cole. She responded by explaining that music defines an age and that it also tends to be associated with one’s youth as this tends to be the time when one is most interested in music. The songs the grandmother in the book hums are a way in which Ellie, her granddaughter, is included in her life and is allowed to experience some of the person she was when she was young. The type of songs we listen to also say something of our mood, and although the songs in the book are beautiful and romantic, they are also sad – ‘Smile though your heart is breaking.’ They help create an atmosphere of loss and longing.
Another question asked was whether Bryony felt that the publishing world was in any way biased. She felt the Western publishing world had stereotypical views of what they wanted the white African writer to produce. They don’t want what is basically a love story because they feel uncomfortable turning away from the political. A number of people in the audience applauded her sentiments and Blessing Mutinhiri, who was chairing the discussion, said that she had faced similar problems with her own work, so it is not something confined to white writers.
When asked about the research she had to do for her novel, Bryony explained that this was one of her favourite aspects as it had been so interesting talking to people who had lived in Harare in the forties. It is often the stories that people don’t mean to tell you that are the most interesting. Bryony also interviewed some ex-Rhodesian soldiers, but had failed to find any black ex-Rhodesian soldiers despite numerous pleas. She had really wanted to find someone who had served in Burma as Samson had in the novel.
In response to a question as to how long it took her to write the book, Bryony said that parts of it were written when she lived in London, about twelve years ago. The first line had come to her after a talk with two friends, one of whom had mentioned the burning of the British flag at Brady Barracks at Independence. The rest of the novel had developed from there, but she had never had a very clear or set idea about what she was writing.
The literary discussion at The Book Café was supported by Pamberi Trust, British Council and ’amaBooks Publishers.