Upon completing her A levels, Ellie leaves for England, convinced that she will find herself, her place in the grand scheme of things and finally attain that state of serenity that has so far eluded her. However she soon discovers that: “It is not enough just to travel, if one wishes to change who one is. The greatest journey we go on is inward towards ourselves, rather than outwards and away. You cannot change who you are unless you know who you are and what you are capable of, and that is what I had never known and why, finally, I couldn’t move on.”
Ellie shuttles back and forth between Zimbabwe and England, a troubled young woman who is at once comforted and disturbed by how some things back home do not seem to change. Her restless spirit continues to battle with the business of finding her place and she completes a bachelor’s, a master’s and embarks on a PhD degree.
The news that her grandmother has been brutally bludgeoned to death in her home in Suburbs marks the beginning of another phase in her journey which ultimately leads her into a quagmire of secrets and revelations that help to answer some of the questions along her journey to finding herself. Her grandmother’s diaries hold the missing pieces to a very complex puzzle, one which her family had protected her from as an only child. She learns who her grandmother Evelyn really is, how she came to what was then Southern Rhodesia in 1946 and how she ended up married to Leonard, her grandfather. She unravels the mystery around the death of her uncle Jeremy and how this singular event irrevocably changed the family dynamics from what it was to what she was born into.
Rheam’s brilliance lies in her ability to weave what seem like two completely different stories into a seamless work of art that is both evocative and entertaining. The attention to detail in her historical accounts of pre independence Rhodesia, along with the characters operating in this colonial era of cups of tea, morning and afternoon, sundowners, country clubs and exotic flower gardens, evokes and captures vivid images of what this era was like for the colonials and their civilized black stewards.
The story is told in beautiful prose, peppered with old world verse and philosophical musings. Her characters are sometimes funny, foolish, tragic, selfish and downright irritating. All are bound together masterfully in the messy business of living, and searching, adjusting and moving forward. In the hands of a lesser writer, this powerful story would have been lacklustre and tedious to read. However it is told by a true craftswoman, whose style, tempo and artistry in her use of language is outstanding and therefore the story simply shines.
Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She left home at the age of eighteen and worked in Germany before embarking on her undergraduate studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Barbara moved to the United States in 1997, where she resides with her husband and 4 daughters. She is passionate about raising her daughters, reading good literature, writing and running marathons.
Barbara's short story Christina the Colourful is to appear in the forthcoming 'amaBooks short story anthology Where to Now?